Reporter’s Notebook: From One Paperboy to Another

As a kid in Ontario, I was a bicycle-riding paperboy. Sixty years later I’m still at it, distributing 4,000 copies of The Highlands Current each Friday morning in Beacon, Cold Spring and Philipstown, rain or shine, although thankfully by car.

Often on Fridays I’d see a weathered black car zooming around with copies of The New York Times flying out the window. My reaction was always, “Man, that guy drives like a maniac!”

Late last year that black car disappeared. Its driver, Decatur Myers, died on Dec. 13, at age 72, of cancer. Lory Smith, who lives in Cold Spring, emailed The Current to ask if we knew that Decatur had passed. “He was a unique individual and worked extremely hard to get us all our various papers,” he wrote. “I considered him a friend.”

I soon realized how many people had known Decatur — some by name, others simply as their longtime newspaper delivery man, many from his infamous driving.

Although we never met, I felt a kinship, knowing that we must have shared the same grievances about heavy editions (today’s 24-page paper is 16,000 pages heavier than a 20-pager) and bad weather. Wanting to know more about him, I called his son, Decatur Jr., who agreed to meet at his Peekskill home. Joining us were Decatur Jr.’s wife, Joanne, and, by phone, Decatur Sr.’s sister, Virginia, in Michigan, and his daughter, Sakura, in Yonkers.

It was a raucous conversation, with all five of us sometimes talking at once.

Born in West Virginia, Decatur spent much of his life in Yonkers, working in maintenance. Around 1991 he moved to Peekskill. Soon after, he “retired” to take up newspaper delivery, which continued nearly every day for the next 28 years.

Besides The Times, he delivered The Wall Street Journal, The Korea Times, The Journal News, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, the Financial Times, Barron’s and The Observer.

His route took from midnight until 11 a.m. and included as many as 500 customers from Croton to Philipstown to Carmel.

When I sheepishly asked about Decatur’s driving, I was greeted by thunderous laughter.

“He was the world’s worst driver!” Joanne concurred. His son said his dad was known to fall asleep at the wheel. He confirmed the senior Decatur went through vehicles like Tiger Woods goes through golf balls. “He was especially hard on brakes and transmissions,” Decatur Jr. said.

Sakura Myers, Decatur Myers and Decatur Myers Jr. in 2014 (Photo provided)

His father survived one serious accident, he said, suffering two broken ankles that required surgery and a painful recovery. He also had shoulder surgery and a small stroke.

But he loved the 11-hour route, and doctor’s orders couldn’t stop him. He’d even eat and sleep in his car. “His route was like a drug; he had to have it,” Decatur Jr. said.

Decatur was married three times, to Shirley, Cecelia and June. “If nothing else, he was a ladies’ man!” Joanne said with a laugh. His first two marriages ended in divorce but the three wives were known to get together on occasion.

He loved family and family outings. He enjoyed watching baseball, football and golf, especially Tiger Woods. In his younger days he followed the Brooklyn Dodgers and was heartbroken when they moved to Los Angeles.

Decatur was generous. “He put others ahead of himself,” his son said. “He’d give you his shirt even before he’d worn it.”

His sister Virginia said he always gave her a special Christmas present. This past year it was a bubblegum pink linen jacket and scarf. “He said ‘You gotta hook this up with some navy blue — it’ll knock that pink out!’ ”

He brought his last gift to her early. He was losing weight; something was wrong. In September, Decatur had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.

He worked his route into November. He lived his last days with Virginia, on her Michigan property, one of his favorite places.

In one of their last conversations, Decatur suggested a “black-and-white party,” with live music and formal attire, to remember him. “I told him we’d do that,” Virginia said, but it never happened.

Decatur’s family plans to spread his ashes on Father’s Day, on a mountaintop in Philipstown, another favorite spot.


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8 thoughts on “Reporter’s Notebook: From One Paperboy to Another

  1. Thank you to Michael Turton for his wonderful column about my longtime “paper man!” — which was the enthusiastic daily announcement from my old friend Decatur Myers as he tossed the paper from his moving car.

    I was terribly saddened to hear about his passing — a fact I had suspected but was uncertain about over the previous few months. Mr. Myers was indeed special. The most significant thing about his work was how oriented he was to servicing each and every individual on his many routes.
    Because my wife and I traveled a lot, we soon learned that it was better to rely on him to keep track of our comings and goings than on The New York Times’ computer. I assume there are many people from his route who called his cellphone to re-port this or that issue and fondly remember his cheerful greeting.

    The column was a perfect example of why a community newspaper is still an important way for us locals to connect with each other. Mr. Myers’ career is an example of no matter how “simple” a job may be, when a person does it with grace, enthusiasm and dedication, he or she makes a positive difference.

    The world is a poorer place without Mr. Myers. But the community is richer because Michael Turton told that story — amplifying the feelings people like me and Mr. Myers’ other customers already knew. My sincere condolences to the extended Myers family.

  2. Thank you, Mike Turton! Decatur would drive by and throw my paper out his car window, but I never knew who he was. It’s nice to read and know his story. [via Facebook]

  3. I’ve been wondering why my Times has been coming earlier, why the Sunday sections stopped coming on Friday, why I haven’t heard his loud motor or traditional “Paper, paper, wake up, wake up, wake up!” call outside my window. Decatur’s well-deserved reputation for bad driving aside, he was a great newspaper guy, and he’s been missed. [via Facebook]

  4. Decatur would pull to a complete stop in the middle of his deliveries, throw his car door open in the roadway, leaving it wide open, and saunter over to my front porch to chat about the weather, the dog and his nephew. His grin and positive nature always left me smiling after my personal deliveries. [via Facebook]

  5. Everyone in my building knew about Decatur’s departure. In fact, he told me about his health issue during one of his last deliveries. His last words to me were, “I’ll be back. I will return.” His positive attitude was inspiring. The residue of those words and the memory of his years delivering my newspaper, has indeed brought him back. Rest in peace, Decatur.

  6. Decatur was a unique and gentle man who served our communities with style — Honk. “Paper!” A couple of years ago, Decatur and I talked about going to a Yankees game, but it never happened — it’s too bad!

  7. It saddens me to hear of the passing of Decatur Myers. I considered him a good friend. I had many a good chat with him either on the road or at the gas station. One day he came knocking on my door and I had to go down the road and pull his car out of the woods. He was lucky that day. The last time he came down the driveway to see me he told me he lost weight. Now I know what happened. Thanks, Mike, for your article. He was such a nice guy. God bless him.

  8. Thank you for the wonderful tribute to my father-in-law, Decatur. My husband and his family greatly appreciate it, and it’s great to know everyone thought so highly of him. He did have quite the personality! He is greatly missed, but I’m sure he’s looking down smiling and loving this. [via Facebook]