By Chris Muldrow / Fredericksburg Today
The Fredericksburg area lost a giant Saturday–and a lot of us locally lost someone who meant a great deal to us.
Josiah Rowe served two terms as mayor of Fredericksburg. He was also the publisher of The Free Lance-Star for decades.
Joe and his brother, Charles, were co-publishers of the paper when I first moved to Fredericksburg, and Joe took over the whole operation when Charles retired.
When I first met Joe, I was scared of him.
I was a copy editor, and Joe was notorious for marking up proofs of newspaper pages with red ink. Woe be to you if you made a grammar or spelling mistake and he saw it.
In fact, sometimes I would be working on news pages, and he would quietly pull proofs of pages I was working on off the wall, sit down in the cubicle next to me, and mark them up for 20 minutes. Then he’d tack them back up and walk away, never saying a word.
He would also walk through the building at night during the late shift, turning off unused lights and monitors across the newsroom.
Joe was wicked smart. He could read upside down and backwards, a skill learned running the old Linotype typesetting machines in the lead type days of the paper. He understood the language better than most, and he had a keen eye for consistency and detail.
He also had an amazing memory. I left Fredericksburg for several years, and when I came back, he remembered things we had talked about 5 years previously, including family information and personal details that I didn’t realize he had been logging when we talked.
Joe was a nut for technology, particularly technology that promised efficiency. He was one of the first adopters in the world of digital cameras for the newsroom, and he made sure the software and hardware at the paper was cutting-edge. He was the first person I knew to buy a Toyota Prius (He also liked nice German sedans). When we talked, once I got to know him, he always asked about the latest technology that I was running into in my part of the business.
Once you got past Joe’s taciturn exterior, you’d find a man who took great joy in walking the halls of the paper, handing out people’s paychecks, or walked the halls at night making sure everything was just so. You’d find a man who had a whip-sharp sense of humor, a man who didn’t miss a thing around him.
You’d also find a man who left an amazing legacy in this town. The Rappahannock River is protected because of steps Joe took as mayor. Young people learn tennis because of facilities Joe helped build. The area’s history is preserved because of the journalism work that Joe helped nurture for years and years. And Joe raised a family that continues to make a difference in this community and others because of the example he set.
To Joe’s family and friends, I offer my deepest condolences. To those who didn’t know Joe, check out the oral history interview that Friends of the Rappahannock posted here: https://www.riverfriends.org/joe-rowe-oral-history/. You’ll get a sense of who he was.