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Mary Peyton Meyer was a true original

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By Dave Bell

She was, without question, an original.

With a life that spanned 102 years, Mary Peyton Meyer saw a slice of American life that boggles the mind. She, quite literally, saw us move from the horse and buggy days to a time when we can communicate, through cyberspace, with people anywhere in the world. She saw the first automobiles, she saw man walk on the moon, she saw the development of the first computers (though she never saw the need for one to do her reports).

And through all the changes, Mary exhibited a zest for life that amazed those half her age.

Last week, her aging body could go no more, and Mary passed away.

A farmers wife, a school teacher and a newspaper correspondent, she was an inspiration to all who had the good fortune to cross paths with her.

Her 87-year newspaper career with The Leader-Union which began at the tender age of 15 is unmatched anywhere in the nation. Week after week, she faithfully chronicled the news from Frogtown a crossroads community in southeastern Fayette County that no longer exists.

Yet, when news happened in that area, folks knew it would be dutifully recorded in the Frogtown News in The Leader-Union. Mary was on it. She recorded the births, baptisms, marriages and deaths and all the news in between. It wasnt high journalism, but it was the news that connected the lives of the people of that area.

And in 1990, at the age of 84, that small-town focus led Mary to the bright lights of Hollywood as she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Always one for one-liners, Mary held her own with the quick-witted host. She traded quips with Carson and even invited him to visit Frogtown.

When Carson asked if her weekly column was a gossip column, Mary retorted: I dont write gossip. She described gossip as something that would hurt somebodys feelings, and assured Carson that I dont want to do that.

The fast-paced interview was friendly and seemed to genuinely spark the interest of the Nebraska-born Carson. He could tell that he was paired with a formidable personality one honed from four decades of keeping order in the classroom and a lifetime of managing the activities of a farm. Plus, he knew shed write an account of the visit in the next issue of The Leader-Union.

In one sense, Marys appearance on The Tonight Show (and the newspaper coverage that precipitated her invitation from Carson) was her 15 minutes of fame. And she did seem to enjoy it. But after she returned to Fayette County, her life soon returned to the things she enjoyed most keeping up with the good folks in her corner of the world, attending her weekly Weight Watchers meetings and zipping around in her little red car.

As her health has failed in recent months, several of Marys friends have helped her collect the news each week. But the signature piece of each weeks report has been her almost-indecipherable scrawlings on the half sheets of typing paper. Those accounts were pure Mary. They told the story about her people, in her inimitable way.

She was one of a kind. We were privileged to call her a co-worker and a friend.