Robin Snow retiring after 48 years at newspaper
Published 9:52 am Thursday, December 30, 2021
By Mike Barnhardt
Gordon Tomlinson must have known that someone special had just walked into his door and asked for a job on Aug. 1, 1974.
A 17-year-old girl, fresh out of high school with 30 days of factory work under her belt, waltzed right in. She wasn’t at all intimidated by his large frame and booming voice.
A friend had told her about a job opening, and she was there to apply.
He hired her on the spot, asking if she could start right then and there. Her pay was $1.90 per hour.
Forty-eight years and five months later, Robin Snow is retiring from the Davie County Enterprise Record at the end of this year.
“It’s been a great ride,” she said.
A great ride, indeed.
Tomlinson quickly saw that her ability was being wasted simply setting type, or typing. He put her to work at the front desk, running errands (There were multiple trips to Salisbury each week back then.). Within months, she was helping customers, doing payroll. Within a year or two, he put a camera in her hand – a camera that has captured generations of life in Davie County.
There were 27 employees at the newspaper back then. At her retirement, there will be three.
Robin has photographed presidents and presidential hopefuls, U.S. Senators, movie stars and famous athletes. She’s been inside the courtrooms, photographing trials of some of the more famous cases here. She made photographs of just about every athlete who played for Davie High for a number of years.
One of her sayings: “I can make your child a star for a week.”
She relishes the memories of her work at the homes of Davie residents. It’s there she celebrated their accomplishments, and shared tears at their tragedies. “They were all very real to me,” she said.
“She was an Energizer Bunny photographer, always ready to go, locked and loaded, camera and film in the bag, gas in the car and arriving on the scene often before the fire truck or ambulance,” said former publisher and editor, Dwight Sparks.
She has held many titles over the years, the latest when she was named general manager by Sparks. “She was a photographer first, but her responsibilities expanded to include a little of everything at the newspaper.”
“Robin knows everybody – the firefighters, deputies and police, politicians, teachers, farmers, housewives – everybody. For the youngsters, she knew their parents and grandparents and had taken all their pictures,” Sparks said.
“All of the things I’ve seen and experienced is amazing,” Robin said. “Forty-eight years have taught me to listen when people speak and understand how alike and how different we all are.
“The best compliment that I’ve received is that you are fair. One of the hardest things was to not show emotions at sporting events, jury trials, elections or beauty pageants. I just wanted to be fair.”
When he retired, former district attorney, Butch Zimmerman, sent Robin a thank you note – thanking her for being fair, and for being a friend. For those who don’t know, Zimmerman was never fond of those who reported the news.
Robin had that way with people.
She was welcomed on the scene of many disasters and tragedies because she could be trusted. More than one television news person complained about her preferential treatment, but she knew the firefighters, the police officers and the first responders. She got the photos she needed for the newspaper, and photos that the emergency personnel needed – often going back to the darkroom and printing copies before they ever got back to the office.
She still credits Tomlinson for getting her on the right track in life. “Gordon Tomlinson gave me a chance to work, vote and taught me why you do both of those things. He used to come in and pat me on top of the head like I was a little dog.”
The headlines in the Enterprise Record on her first day in 1974 were about marijuana found growing in the woods, and contestants for the “Miss Mocksville” beauty pageant. Little did she know that in a few years, she would be taking photographs of both. Also in that 28-page 1974 issue: seven wedding announcements and t-bone steaks at Hefner’s grocery for $1.79 a pound
Jim Barringer came to Davie County once a week to take photographs for the newspaper in those days. A full-time photographer for the Salisbury Post, Robin would visit with him in the Post darkroom on some of her trips there.
Barringer, Wayne Hinshaw and Junior ??????? taught her the ropes – in and around the camera and in and around the darkroom. She honed her craft long before the advent of digital images. Darkroom work was long. The chemicals used to process photographs could be harmful. And mistakes weren’t easily or not able to be fixed.
She remembers her first assignment: taking photos of painters putting new wording onto the roof of the antique barn on Farmington Road at I-40. She was excited, and it was printed on the front page.
Her first published color photograph was of the newly-constructed Mocksville Town Hall in 1976.
She spent years going back and forth from Salisbury, as Mocksville did not have a darkroom. After every Friday night football game, she would head to Salisbury.
She remembers one of her first N.C. Press Association awards, a photo she had made of convicted murderer Daniel Webster. “He told me that if I made his picture, it would be the last that I would ever take. It scared me to death.” But she wasn’t intimidated, and took the photograph. The image was her first photo to be distributed via a wire service.
There were several other threats over the years. Robin wasn’t intimidated, but she took each seriously, reported them and kept her eyes open.
There weren’t many female news photographers in those days, and Robin became the first officer of the N.C. Press Photographers Association.
She received a minimum of 36 individuals awards and was instrumental in newspaper awards from the N.C. Press Association in 25 years of entries, including:
• 1976, third, use of photographs;
• 1977, second, photography;
• 1979, third, feature photograph; third, spot news photograph;
• 1980, second, use of photographs;
• 1981, third, spot news photograph;
• 1982, first, use of photographs;
• 1984, third, use of photographs;
• 1987, third, use of photographs;
• 1988, first, spot news photograph; second, use of photographs; third, general excellence;
• 1989, first general excellence; first, use of photographs; first and second, spot news photograph; second, photo page;
• 1990, third, general excellence; second, use of photographs; first and second, sports photograph; first, color photograph; second and third, photo page;
• 1991, first, general excellence; first, use of photographs; second and third, color photograph; third, spot news photo; third, feature photo; third, photo page;
• 1992, first and second, photo page; second, sports photo;
• 1993, second, use of photographs; first and third, photo page;
• 1994, third, sports photo; third, photo page;
• 1995, first, sports photo; first, photo page;
• 1996, second, sports photo; third, photo page;
• 1997, third, general excellence; second, use of photographs; first, sports photo; second, photo page; third, spot news photo;
• 1998, second, photo page;
• 1999, first, news photo; third, photo page;
• 2004, second, photo illustration (with Ray Tutterow).
“Her retirement means a treasure trove of historical records and information will walk out the newspaper door,” Sparks said. “Her instant recall of who’s who, when it happened and who’s related to whom has always been a valuable resource. She has been on the scene for events large and small in Davie County for five decades.”
“Photojournalism has opened many doors for me,” she said. “I made a lot of friends and gained a lot of respect for Davie County’s volunteer firefighters.
“If I made a picture of you, you became a part of my life.”