Longtime Advocate worker Sonny Varnado dies at age 79

Purser “Sonny” Varnado, a longtime production room and copy desk employee of the Morning Advocate, died Friday in Bentonville, Ark.

He was 79.

Varnado was hired in June 1965 to work in the Morning Advocate’s composing room, where pages were physically put together before computer technology replaced that function.

Varnado filled a number of different jobs in the composing room, ranging from night superintendent to assistant foreman.

Varnado moved to The Advocate’s news department in May 1977 and began working as a copy editor.

Ken Duhe, Advocate news editor, said Varnado was an “Advocate fixture” on the copy desk when Duhe started in 1989.

“When you were a new person like me, if you had a question, people would say, ‘Go ask Sonny,’ ” Duhe said.

Varnado was the kind of employee who worked “in the background,” Duhe said.

“He just sat down and read story after story, looking for errors and fixing errors and writing headlines,” he said.

Duhe said Varnado made his job easier because he was an efficient copy editor.

“If there were a lot of pages or a lot of stories all coming on the desk at one time, and you looked over and you saw Sonny there, you said, ‘Well it’s going to be all right because Sonny’s here,’ ” Duhe said.

Victoria Fox, 41, Varnado’s daughter, said the highlight of Varnado’s day always was getting dressed to go to work.

“He loved the newspaper,” Fox said. “All of his closest friends worked there. He considered them family. We all knew that was a huge part of his life.”

Fox said her father was “the greatest man I’ve ever known.”

“He was a man of character, and he always did the right thing,” she said.

Varnado retired from The Advocate in May 2000.

Varnado’s son, Josh Day, 42, said his father moved to northwest Arkansas after retiring.

“They went fishing in the Ozarks a whole lot,” Day said.

Varnado was born in a post office in the small town of Chatawa, Miss., in Pike County, Day said. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and also briefly studied at seminary, Day said.

“He was a really kindhearted person,” Day said.

Varnado is also survived by his wife Shelia and two grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have not been set for Varnado, Fox said.