As a child, Ed Koterba Morgret knew his father was important.
His mother would point him out on television when world leaders faced the press.
And then there was the time his father introduced him to Rin Tin Tin, the super dog. And got him a ride in the Goodyear blimp.
Young Ed’s father was a “newspaperman” in the heyday of newspapers. He wrote columns, mostly from Washington, for papers around the country. Ed Koterba was billed as the next Ernie Pyle.
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But Morgret, now a 64-year-old retired school psychologist living on Hilton Head Island, was denied a full life with his father.
Ed Koterba was killed in a plane crash in June 1961. He was 42. His son was 9.
The next day, President John F. Kennedy began his press conference with a tribute to Koterba. He called him “a most outstanding newspaperman.”
Newspapers had a heyday because of people like Koterba. He started with a folksy column on his father-in-law’s paper in Pennsylvania, and later was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for a series of front-page articles in The Washington Post on gambling and election irregularities in southern Maryland.
After his death, U.S. Rep. William Ayres of Ohio entered into the Congressional Record something we could use today. He told Speaker Sam Rayburn:
“Ed Koterba could very easily have read from the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy. In the second chapter St. Paul wrote to Timothy warning him against unprofitable discussions. In the sixteenth verse he wrote these words: ‘But shun profane and vain babblings for they will increase unto more ungodliness.’ Ed Koterba, being the gentleman he was, did not engage in profane and vain babblings.’ ”
Koterba’s child had only hints of this, until, nearing retirement, he had time to look into boxes in his attic.
Dotty Koterba remarried and young Ed was adopted by his stepfather. They had a happy family, but the newspaperman was rarely talked about.
Still, the clackety-clack, clackety-clack of his father typing a column for his 4:30 p.m. daily deadline was stamped on the child’s heart. He loved his father, and had begged to go with him on that final, fatal trip. He knew his father, like his mother, was a musician. He was a man who dedicated his evening hours to a family meal and family activities, like chess. The newspaperman once chose celebrating his anniversary over a press conference with Nikita Khrushchev.
Dotty Koterba meticulously clipped and neatly filed Ed Koterba’s columns, from “Life in Our County” for the Waynesboro (Pa.) Record Herald, to his syndicated “A Bit of Washington.” Those clear words still carry the human element of the nation’s capital during the Cold War and space race. They tell what it all meant to the common folk across the land.
Koterba saw himself as a government watchdog. He was credited posthumously by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara for saving the Pentagon $10 million, back when a million here and a million there was real money.
Dotty Koterba clipped the “Assignment Washington” columns written for Scripps-Howard, and her first husband’s coverage of the 1960 presidential race. She saved the “On Tour” columns from the family’s extended trailer tour covering 33 states, Canada and Mexico. There were the “Our Forgotten Heroes” pieces filed from overseas, and columns about travels to Antarctica, Czechoslovakia and India.
“I had no idea,” his son would say years later when he found boxes of articles in the attic. The discoveries caused him to start rushing home from work just to read them.
Morgret decided to transcribe a few of the personal columns so that he and Sarah’s two sons would know their grandfather.
But he quickly knew he had much more than that. He had a rare and detailed look inside America at a heady and dangerous time from the end of World War II to a year short of the JFK assassination.
Morgret’s cousin Jeff Koterba, editorial cartoonist with the Omaha World-Herald, encouraged him to get it published as a book.
He has done that. His self-published, 554-page book “The Essential Ed Koterba” is just out. He’ll have a book-signing Saturday in Beaufort.
He says at the end that he has lived in the hope that he has measured up to his father’s unexpressed expectations of him.
The book has all the specifics a newspaperman loves. The son did a great job of introducing us to a father who was called a “morning friend” by one of his millions of readers.
After Koterba died, one of his millions of readers wrote a letter to the editor.
“I guess you might say he was one of us — a neighbor who always waved as he passed by.”
Saturday, Nov. 12, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at McIntosh Book Shoppe, 919 Bay St., Beaufort.