Desks arranged side by side. Typewriters tapping. Telephones ringing. Yellow legal pads stacked on desks filled with handwritten notes. Black-and-white photos shoved inside manila file folders. People chatting and laughing with each other. The hum of printing presses coming up through the floor preparing a once- or twice-a-day print edition of the news.
Based on my imagination and movies that I’ve seen, this describes a newsroom in the 1960s and 1970s. This is an era long gone due to the information superhighway where most news is instantaneously shared with us. People still generate the information that we can read around the clock, but it is a different news world than it once was.
Norma Gill was one of the local greats of that long gone era. Manatee County’s agricultural reporter in the 1960s and 1970s, Gill was born in Jacksonville and graduated in 1952 from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a journalism degree.
After graduating, she worked at a weekly newspaper in South Carolina. In the mid-1950s she moved to Manatee County and worked for Tropicana in the shipping and receiving department prior to accepting a position at the Bradenton Herald in 1962.
Gill started off working for the women’s page as the food editor and later joined a small staff of reporters on the city desk. She was assigned to cover the area north of the Manatee River, which meant a good deal of what she was reporting on was agricultural in nature.
She left the Bradenton Herald in 1966 to work for the Bradenton bureau of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, but returned to her first home at the Herald in the early 1970s and stayed until 1980, when she left the full-time position and continued working as a correspondent for several years.
Gill’s knowledge, research and keen reporting on our county’s vital spark, agriculture, was held in high esteem. In 1984, she was named “Outstanding Agriculturist” and was inducted into the Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Gill’s award, bestowed by the Bradenton Kiwanis Club, necessitated a change in the name of the award from “Outstanding Man in Agriculture” and paved the way for future female inductees.
According to a Bradenton Herald editorial obituary in May 2000, the award cited Gill for having “done more to promote good relations between the agribusiness interests and city folks than anyone else.”
Gill had a personal interest in both areas — she worked as a journalist during the week and on the weekends she worked as a rancher. She and her husband owned a home in Palmetto but also owned a cattle ranch in east Manatee County, at the Hardee County line.
They spent their weekends working cattle and on Monday mornings, newspaper readers would look forward to her column, “Normally Speaking,” where she would often describe her agricultural adventures in amusing detail.
After Gill’s husband passed away in 1991, she sold the ranch and was content at home in Palmetto. Her writing earned her numerous honors over the years, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service recognizing her coverage of conservation and agriculture.
Gill died in April 2000. As the editorial obituary claimed, Manatee County lost a good friend and a good citizen with her passing. She was described as “the genuine article of a Florida native with an easy-going, unflappable nature, friendly personality and a southern drawl on which no words were wasted. Her love of this community and of old Florida represent all the best elements of this state.”
Indeed, Norma Gill sounds like someone I would have enjoyed knowing … and someone a newsroom would have been proud to call one of their own.
Diane Ingram is the supervisor at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum. Our History Matters is an occasional series published in the Bradenton Herald.