A sense of family is often lost in the modern workplace, but not at The Mount Airy News. There, employees have pulled together after a tragedy which claimed one of their own.
On Sept. 3 Ashley Johnson, a night-shift employee in The News mail room, was riding along with her father, Bobby Ray Johnson, a carrier for the paper. Ashley Johnson was along helping to complete the route that belongs to her father and mother, filling in for her mom, who was recovering from a medical procedure.
Tragedy struck when the vehicle Bobby Johnson was driving swerved across opposing lanes of traffic and struck a pole at the intersection of U.S. 52 and N.C. 601 in Mount Airy. Ashley Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Bobby Johnson was transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem in critical condition. According to circulation manager Martha Eaton, Johnson has undergone six surgeries and has a long road to recovery ahead.
Bobby and Penny Johnson are unable to perform their duties and deliver their routes. However, they won’t be without income, according to Eaton. Other News carriers have them covered.
Eaton said several of them, including herself, offered to deliver the papers for the couple. When all is said and done, the newspapers reach their destination, and the Johnsons get a check cut to them — just as if they had delivered the papers.
Eaton said every evening her carriers deliver several thousand newspapers. Though somebody is covering the home delivery route the Johnsons handled, the other portion of the route, which delivered newspapers to about 30 newspaper racks and stores, has been split up among six other carriers.
Eaton, Brandie Phillips, Joyce Bunn, Justin Bowman, Terry Sechrist and Joe Willey have split up the route, adding about 30 to 40 minutes to each carrier’s delivery time each night, according to Eaton. Of course, none are accepting payment for filling in for the Johnsons.
“I would like to say that none of us wanted any special recognition for helping one of our own. We are a little family,” said Phillips. “We have good days and nights and bad ones, but when one part of the family is hurting or in need we all try to help.”
Phillips noted many carriers have other jobs during daytime hours, and the group is always quick to help each other out.
“As we leave out each night, you hear over and over, ‘Be careful. Call if you need anything,’” stated Phillips, who went on to commend Eaton for her role in helping out the Johnson family.
“There are a handful of us that are being ‘spotlit.’ There are many more that have put in extra hours,” Phillips stated. “Martha Eaton is one in particular. She works all day collecting, counting, doing paperwork and taking calls from customers and carriers. She has worked all day and has come back to help run Penny and Bobby’s route.”
Eaton said taking care of each other is simply what her department does.
The Johnson void
The void left by the Sept. 3 accident is immense. The circulation department is down two employees, but so, too, is the department in which Ashley Johnson worked — the mail room.
Not only is Ashley gone, but fiance′ Danny Tate has been out of work as well, said Shane Dickerson, who works in the mail room. Many employees have worked additional hours to complete the tasks associated with preparing thousands of newspapers for delivery each night.
Of course, the hole left by Johnson’s untimely departure from the world is much bigger than manning and hours.
“Almost every night we read headlines about accidents,” said mail room employee Wayne Flippin. “It never really hit home until now.”
The mail room’s other employees, Terri Trenter and Beth Johnson, described the void Ashley Johnson left as “a big hole.”
“She really will be missed,” said Trenter.
Dickerson mentioned many others have pulled together to keep things up and running at The News, keeping newspapers in the hands of thousands of readers. Pressroom operators Jason Wood, Karly Raditz and Michael Berrier have also put in extra hours to keep the ship afloat.
News publisher Ron Clausen hasn’t been on the job in Mount Airy for long, but he’s impressed with how his staff has handled the adversity and responded with compassion.
“The outpouring of support for the Johnson family in a time of need is both a humbling and inspiring feeling. Our contract carrier and company employees all work very hard, long hours,” said Clausen. “Many of them have extended themselves beyond the norm to help out. I truly appreciate and am thankful to work with such a great team at The Mount Airy News group. Their actions surely speak of their heart and character.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.