Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

Note: This column appeared in November, 2007. Recent columns have been about my time in Hawaii, so this one seemed relevant. Enjoy. MT

Recently I attended the annual Western Communications publishers' meeting in Bend, Ore. Two days of meetings concluded with a dinner. I made my way through the guests carrying a manila file folder marked "Charlotte." I searched the room until I found the woman I was looking for and handed her the file. "I think you'll find what you were looking for here," I said. She opened the folder and saw a photograph of a woman holding a koala bear.

I have always been up front about how my career in the newspaper business started. I was attending graduate school at the University of Hawaii in 1974 and working part time at the University's School of Public Health for $2.06 per hour. Mostly I filed, but in the late afternoons I carried mail to the campus post office. On the way I passed an employment bulletin board. One day I stopped to read the ads.

"Classified Advertising Telephone Salesperson needed for Hawaii Newspaper Agency. Excellent spelling and typing skills necessary. $5.11/hour to start. Contact Charlotte at 525-8000."

The word "newspaper" and the $5.11 an hour stopped me in my tracks. I

got rid of the mail and put a dime in the pay phone and called

Charlotte. "I'm sorry," she said, "I just filled that position." I panicked. I couldn't afford

to miss this opportunity. I kept Charlotte on the line, telling her I

was an excellent speller, could type at least 50 words per minute and I

always wanted to work at a newspaper. I was practically begging when

she finally agreed to an interview, but she couldn't promise anything.

Charlotte wore a long caftan-style dress in a bold print, dangling

elephant earrings and a red Afro wig when I met her. We hit it off

immediately. I began my training the following week and worked for

Charlotte for the next five years. We became friends. Over wine or

tequila she shared interesting stories from her past. She had dated

Jerry Brown in L.A. She had served in the Peace Corps and afterward

explored ports of call on a banana boat in South America. She visited

Africa. She loved animals, especially elephants.

At the prior year's publishers' meeting, I met the wife of the

president of our company. I sat across from Roz at dinner. When I

mentioned my first newspaper job was in Hawaii, she said she had worked

for the same parent company (Gannett) at the same time. She knew

Charlotte well back then but had lost track of her. "You've got to find


When my boss's wife asked me to find Charlotte, I started looking. My

first lead was an Internet story about Charlotte reuniting with a

former Peace Corps friend after 30 years. From that story I learned

that Charlotte was a freelance travel writer. I soon found other

stories that included her e-mail address at the end.

I e-mailed Charlotte, hoping she'd remember me. She did, and remembered

Roz too. After 20 years in the advertising department, Charlotte went

back to college and earned a degree in journalism. She returned to work

for the Honolulu Star Bulletin as a copy editor. When she retired from

the Bulletin she hit the road and the ocean. She jumped aboard a German

freighter in Long Beach as the only passenger and sailed to the Sea of


Charlotte is now officially retired on the Big Island and travels to

exotic places like Morocco to celebrate her birthday or Bhutan to

follow up on a story about a shelter for stray dogs.

I handed over my Charlotte file and Roz contacted her that very night.

They have been in touch and plan a reunion in Hawaii. From time to time

I check in with Charlotte, the spunky, independent, brave woman who

gave me my first real job and put me on a path that led me here.