For nearly a quarter century, Grady Ervin delivered the news in an old gray and red pickup.
He would fill the back of his truck with bundles of the Fort Mill Times when it came off the press and cart them around to the gas stations and grocery stores and other vendors in the township that sell the papers off racks inside. Then he'd be off to refill the various distribution boxes spread throughout the Fort Mill/Tega Cay area.
"I certainly didn't do it for the money," he joked. "I just like to have something to do."
Yesterday was the last time he dropped off papers along his route. As an independent contractor, Ervin, who's also a longtime town councilman, stayed with the Times as two owners, three publishers a handful of editors and more than a dozen reporters cycled through the office. Former owner and publisher John Mantle and Ervin worked together in the early 1990s following a contentious and at times combative relationship in prior years.
The two eventually became friends.
"John and Grady were initially bitter enemies, but at some point they turned it around and became buddies," former Times Editor Jerry Maguire said. "They're a lot alike. I think that's where the clash came from."
"He was as reliable as a piece of furniture - he was always there," Mantle said. "The thing I remember about Grady, even when the weather was bad it was no excuse, he was never late."
Over the years, Ervin's route grew from 25 stops to 65 to 70. By the end, he was driving 80 miles a week to deliver the news. Along the way he met all kinds of people.
"One of the good things about this is you walk in with a bundle of papers and the lady behind the counter says, 'Hey darling, how are you doing today,' or 'What's the headline today?'" Ervin said. "When I told them I wasn't going to be doing this anymore they all said, 'but you'll come by and visit, right?'"
Ervin grew up the son of sharecroppers in Indian Land, and likes to joke if the Army hadn't come along, he'd probably still be behind a mule plowing those fields. But the Army did come along, and Ervin spent 15 months in Korea before returning to the area and going to work for Bowater. He took the job distributing the Times after he retired from Bowater. He was already a town council member at the time.
"You learn a lot of good lessons looking at the south end of a northbound mule," he said. "I learned to take care of what you have."
Mantle and Maguire said Ervin always went above and beyond what was required in his position.
"Nobody could pay anyone for the kind of work Grady was doing," Maguire said.
He was so dedicated to both the part time job and the town of Fort Mill, that he spent more than an hour chasing down a bundle of papers that blew away in a strong gust of wind one day. He was refilling the distribution box at the Post Office when a gust sent a stack of papers across Unity Street and into Unity Cemetery.
"I don't think I ever got them all, but I picked up the ones I could find," he said.