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Remembering Mary Fisher: A Force In Small-Town Publishing

3 min read

Arkansas lost a devoted small-town newspaperwoman and a community force last month when Mary Mae Fowler Fisher of Danville died at 74, a day after participating in the Arkansas Press Association’s annual convention in Little Rock.

She was a past president of the association and a member of the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation’s board of directors.

Over nearly six decades, she published and edited four weekly newspapers, including the oldest weekly in the state, the Dardanelle Post-Dispatch. She and her husband, David W. Fisher, whom she married at 19, also ran the Yell County Record and the quaintly named Petit Jean Country Headlight, which published editions in Perry and Conway counties.

The day after her death, which came peacefully in her sleep, David Fisher was keeping a promise to her, putting out the next edition of the Record, the paper Mary began working for at age 17.

A graduate of Belleville High School in Yell County, Mary started working at the Record at 17. Her first job was getting the newspapers in the mail on Thursday afternoons, she told the APA in 2014. “Then the rest of the week I finished up job work, like wrapping and delivering.” Before long, she was writing a society column. “I’d call people and see who was visiting who.” And then there was cleaning the linotype machine, which in those days molded hot lead into letters, words and blocks of type.

APA Executive Director Ashley Wimberley, whose parents were small-town newspaper publishers in Clay County, described the Fisher family as a staple in Arkansas journalism and called Mary Fisher a valuable friend and mentor.

“The value of her work on both the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation and Arkansas Press Association boards cannot be downplayed,” Wimberley told Arkansas Business. “We laughed for many years about her not knowing how to say no when asked to serve on a board or committee … but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Publisher Rusty Fraser of the Stone County Leader in Mountain View and Editor Byron Tate of the Pine Bluff Commercial praised Fisher and her family for their dedication to the industry and their communities.

Fraser, the current Arkansas Newspaper Foundation board chair, said Mary Fisher was a valuable foundation director and “a credit to the newspaper industry.”

Tate, another former APA president, said he worked with Fisher on the foundation board and alongside her as a journalist. “Her spirit ran deep, as did her sense of humor. I will deeply miss her.”

The incoming president of the APA, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Eliza Hussman Gaines, met Mary Fisher for the first time at the association gathering just before Fisher died, and Fisher participated in the gavel-passing ceremony, along with other former APA presidents.

Mary Fowler married into a fourth-generation newspaper family when she wed David.

She became the co-owner, editor and publisher of the Yell County Record when she and David bought it in 2014.

She was a member of the Dardanelle and Danville chambers of commerce, a past president of the National Newspaper Foundation, and a longtime scoutmaster for son Davy and official in western Arkansas Scouting.

In lieu of flowers, Mary Fisher asked that memorial donations go to the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation in Little Rock, the Spring Creek Extension Homemakers club in Belleville, and the Danville troop of the Boy Scouts of America.

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