The Vagabond – Famous newspaper publisher was local product

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By Danny Crownover

Simpson Bobo Dean, member of a pioneer family of Gadsden who started his newspaper career as a printer’s devil for the local newspaper, was one of the most militant and colorful publishers and editors in America. He was born March 21, 1871 in Walnut Grove.

Soon after selling The Gadsden Leader in 1892, Dean relocated to Florida, where he established The Palm Beach News as a weekly. He soon converted the paper into a daily with his eyes on Miami, which then had a population of only 2,000.

Dean eventually wound up in that promising town and began publishing The Miami Metropolis. He hardly had his feet on the ground before he ran into a battle that lasted for a quarter of a century, for the simple reason that he was a valiant champion of right, a fearless enemy of wrong and a sympathetic friend of the lowly and the poor.

Dean kept aloof from all kinds of organizations and political entanglements. It is said that his editorial policy burned deep into the hides of political gangsters, who too often dictated the nominations for public office. He battled with shortsighted businessmen who retaliated by withdrawing their advertising.

Dean was once completely boycotted. His newspaper carried only one local advertisement for several weeks, and that was from a small hole-in-the-wall hat cleaner. He fought railroads, oil companies and other interests to preserve the local waterfronts for the public.

Dean fought the selfish crowd that operated the schools and caused a woman school superintendent to lose her job because she sided with him. Dean promptly hired her as his editor-in-chief, and she turned out to be a brilliant success.

Thugs were hired to enter Dean’s office and beat him up but they invariably received a good beating themselves. During one incident, he sent four of said thugs to the hospital following a terrific fist fight.

Dean sent scores of young people to college and put many worthy citizens into business. He never got over the manner in which he got out of the newspaper business.

One day, an ordinary looking man walked into his office, munching peanuts from a nickel bag and scattering the hulls all over the place. The stranger said he wanted to look over the newspaper plant and received permission to do so.

The eventually came back, still eating peanuts and scattering hulls on the floor.

“What will you take for your paper?” the stranger asked.

“Half a million dollars, spot cash,” Dean replied.

“I’ll take it,” the stranger said. He coolly sat down and wrote out a check for $500,000.

It was not until he saw the signature to that check that Dean realized that he had sold his newspaper to Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, who was one of the leading publishers in the country.

After a long illness, Dean died on March 24, 1945 in Sanford, Florida. He is buried in Miami.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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