STARTING OUT: Lauretta McNab as a cadet reporter at The Daily Examiner in 1954.
STARTING OUT: Lauretta McNab as a cadet reporter at The Daily Examiner in 1954.

She was the lifeblood of the DEX and champion of the people

SMALL regional daily newspapers have always been a starting point for young journalists, most of whom move on to bigger, more prestigious mastheads to advance their career.

If you were lucky enough to begin your cadetship at The Daily Examiner prior to 2001, you were privy to much more than your average country daily masthead could offer thanks to the "Lauretta" factor.

As the tributes have poured in for the Examiner's long-serving journalist, editor, and chief-of-staff Lauretta Godbee, it is abundantly clear it wasn't just the young journalists who appreciated her encyclopedic brain, knowledge of local protocols and high standard of ethics she effortlessly exuded, but just about everyone else she touched through an incredible career that spanned five decades of capturing the people and events of the Clarence.

Lauretta's own story began in Ipswich on May 31, 1937 where she was born to James "Jim" and Dorothy McNab, joining sisters Deidre and Elissa (McWhirter) and later, adopted brother Michael Hawkins.

Jim worked on the Dalby paper as a reporter so you could safely say Lauretta had been around journalists her entire life.

The family moved to Grafton when Jim started work at The Daily Examiner and where a bright four-year-old Lauretta NcNab went straight to school at Grafton Primary.

"Mum was always the youngest in her class," Lauretta's daughter Michelle O'Dowd remembers.

Despite this, Lauretta went on to become a prefect and dux of Grafton High School and after graduating at 16, went straight to work at the Examiner in 1954.

The editor at the time was Bill Bailey-Tart and Lauretta's father was part of the general reporting team. As old newspaper articles revealed, "it rarely happens that father and daughter are employed on the same newspaper, and that on many occasions, they (Jim and Lauretta) work together in the subbing room, preparing copy and planning layout." (Jim remained at the Examiner as a sub-editor for some 30 years before his death in 1974).

The new, and soon award-winning cadet (Lauretta took out two Northern Rivers competitions) got straight into the swing of things, literally, when she was assigned to reporting on the social happenings around the Clarence.

"There were a lot of fancy balls at the time," Michelle said.

"She attended so many of them she rejigged her wedding dress to wear to a few."

Of course that dress marked the beginning of the other great relationship in Lauretta's life, one too that saw its initial development occur thanks to journalism.

The year she started at the Examiner, the fledgling cadet was sent along to cover a hockey meeting when she noticed the strapping 24-year-old secretary of the association, Max Godbee.

And while she said on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008 that their first exchange was more about ensuring the names of the hockey players were spelt correctly, Max on the other hand was certainly enamoured by the "bloody good sort".

The couple made things official on May 17, 1958 when they became husband and wife and the legendary partnership of Max and Lauretta began to course through the veins of the Valley's community. When Max later joined the Examiner in 1974, their working relationship saw this involvement go into overdrive.

As a news team they were inseparable and had every facet of life in the Clarence covered, Max with his sport and Lauretta with everything else.

It was nothing for Lauretta to juggle five council meetings (Grafton City, Maclean, Nymboida, Copmanhurst, and Ulmarra shires) and their various colourful characters.

She was also a court and police reporter ("Mum knew all the cops"), covered endless floods and other disasters, VIP visits and general and community news.

"It was nothing for her to do 12 stories a day," Michelle said.

"We would often call the office late in the day to find out what time she would be home and she would say 'I've just got six more to do and I'll be there'."

When Lauretta and Max welcomed their children Paul and Michelle to the Godbee household, the new mum put her career on hold for six years before heading back to the manual typewriter and notebooks full of Pitman shorthand.

And even though she was back at work full-time with two young children, Lauretta still found time to be involved where she could, including the Mothers' Club, P&C associations and Canteen Committee, where she held executive positions.

"She was a bit of a trailblazer in that regard for that time. She was an inspiration to a lot of young girls from my generation," Michelle said.

"Of course she did everything in a lady-like manner, wearing the proper underwear," she laughs.

Michelle said her mum would never have regarded herself as a feminist back then - "she asked her dad for permission to go back to work" - but in her later years she realised she already was.

"Let's just say organising the kitchen cupboards was not her priority. Not many mums were working back then but she would just go about things quietly and not make a fuss."

That sentiment pretty much applied to everything Lauretta did in her life.

When she and Max were nominated as guests of honour for the 2002 Jacaranda Festival, the first couple in its history, Lauretta would have run a mile if it were up to her but knowing Max was extremely proud to partake in such a prestigious and flattering offer, there was never any doubt they would be up on stage that year.

Lauretta's other history-making encounter occurred when she was appointed editor of the Examiner in 1980, the first female in that role for a daily newspaper in Australia at the time. After a few years in the chair she became The Daily Examiner's chief-of-staff, ably steering the Examiner through the revolving door of journalists, photographers, sub-editors, editors, industry changes and technological advancements until retirement in 2001.

Like everything they did in life, Lauretta and Max made the decision to leave the Examiner together, but in the usual Godbee fashion they didn't go cold turkey, supplying the paper for the next decade with hundreds of features and historical articles on their favourite topic - the people of the Clarence.

"Mum loved being a journalist but she really loved all the people she got to work with and the people of the Clarence Valley.

"She would never talk about the news at home. She cared more about what was going on with her colleagues.

"Who had become a grandfather, who had graduated. It was always about the people."

Lauretta Godbee died on September 22 at her South Grafton home with daughter Michelle, son Paul and sister Elissa by her side.

The Godbee family and the Clarence Valley have lost a brilliant mind, remarkable journalist and inspirational woman.

She is survived by her husband Max and was doting grandmother to Michelle and Kevin's children Chris and Tim O'Dowd.

She was also "mum" to countless journalists from around Australia; the tributes of many appear on these pages.

Editorial p15

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