Our newspapers recently lost a member of the family; the obituary for John Branch ran in the Nov. 24 edition. John retired several years ago but we would still see him from time to time, when he came into Oakdale for this or that, (often picking up a pair of shoes he had repaired) or was out and about around his home in Escalon.
He passed away in August and we just recently received the information.
It didn’t come as a surprise, as we had heard of his failing health in recent months. And even though it was a sad moment to actually confirm the news, it also gave us the chance to fondly remember our co-worker.
John had served as editor for The Escalon Times for several years and, when I first arrived from upstate New York, I was brought in as the editor for The Riverbank News. After the birth of my daughter a couple of years later, the then-managing editor for Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon decided to switch things up. He moved John to Riverbank and moved me to Escalon. It turned out to be a wise move, as John really enjoyed the challenge of establishing new contacts in the City of Action and I jumped in with both feet, embracing the Land of Peaches and Cream.
There are many things I remember about John.
First and foremost, his quiet, soft-spoken nature that one wouldn’t expect out of a longtime journalist. We are supposed to be pushy, never-take-no for an answer type people. But John would just quietly, unassumingly go about his business and get the information he needed. I learned to appreciate his sometimes unique wording; when I took over as editor for the three papers I initially had to ask what some of the sayings meant. It was just his proper English way of writing and it was always accurate.
For years, we collectively teased him about his beat up, battered but still running yellow Volkswagen Beetle. We should all be so lucky to have a car that A) Loses a wheel on the bridge over the Stanislaus River coming into Oakdale and doesn’t crash; and B) Survives a fire with just some char marks.
That was his signature vehicle. If you thought a jetliner was for some reason landing nearby, it was probably just John in his trusty VW roaring in to work.
When his son Dustin sent in the obituary, I contacted him to ask for a photo to use with it. He sent a couple, saying John really didn’t like his picture taken so it was hard to find one, especially one where he was smiling and the smile didn’t look forced.
But he did find one; I think the photo that accompanied the obituary summed John up well; a bit of a sly smile, a warm sweater and a little gleam in his eye that meant there was a unique sense of humor hiding there.
He also was the fastest two finger typist I have ever seen. Probably from years of using a typewriter; he still pounded the keyboard – although on a computer – with his two index fingers and index fingers only. I don’t know how he managed to keep that up for so many years without causing irreparable harm.
John and I worked closely during those first few transition months when we switched places, he filled me in on the goings on in Escalon, who was who, what the major issues were and how sports-crazy the town was. In turn, I provided some background information on the people, places and things that were tops on the list in Riverbank. We were also there for back-up if either of us needed help on a story.
A longtime resident of Escalon, John made his mark both in the community where he lived and the one, Riverbank, in which he worked for many years. That’s something his family can be proud of.
And, personally, I learned a lot about the craft of journalism from the quiet man with the proper English sayings. Remembering him brings a smile to my face. Not a bad legacy.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.