RIP Manson Whitlock, typewriter repairman

A short break from politics to acknowledge tradition, dedication and longevity.

Manson Whitlock died last month at the age of 96. You've never heard of Whitlock, but for the better part of 8 decades, he was a typewriter repairman.

Some of our younger readers may wonder what a typewriter is. Not really, of course. But there's a pretty good chance that anyone under the age of 25 has never had to use one, being lucky enough to be born in the digital age and word processing.

But for us old timers, the typewriter is a touchstone to a different time, a different America. The IBM Selectric was hugely popular in offices during the 1970's and most of the 80's. If you worked in an office during that time, chances are you used one.

I learned to type on an old Royal manual typewriter. By the time I got to college, my parents were able to give me a cheap Scholastic electric typewriter which was constantly jamming and had problems with the paper feed.

I still see the computer as something of a glorified typewriter. Whitlock didn't even go that far:

From the early 1930s until shortly before his death last month at 96, Mr. Whitlock, at his shop in New Haven, cared for the instruments, acoustic and electric, on which that music was played.

Mr. Whitlock was often described as America's oldest typewriter repairman. He was inarguably one of the country's longest-serving.

Over time he fixed more than 300,000 machines, tending manuals lovingly, electrics grudgingly and computers never.

"I don't even know what a computer is," Mr. Whitlock told The Yale Daily News, the student paper, in 2010. "I've heard about them a lot, but I don't own one, and I don't want one to own me."

Whitlock's Typewriter Shop once supported six technicians, who ministered to patients with familiar names like Royal, Underwood, Smith and Corona, and curious ones like Hammonia and Blickensderfer.

The shop, near the Yale campus, attracted a tide of students and faculty members; the Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Robert Penn Warren, Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey; the Yale classicist Erich Segal, who wrote the best-selling novel "Love Story" on a Royal he bought there; and, on at least one occasion, President Gerald R. Ford.

In recent years, however, until he closed the shop in June, Mr. Whitlock was its entire staff, working with only a bust of Mark Twain for company. He reported each day in a suit and tie, as he had from the beginning. On Sundays he sometimes cheated and dispensed with the tie.

Mr. Whitlock was older than most of his charges, though by no means all of them. (Among the shop's resident machines was a 1910 Oliver, with its type bars arrayed vertically, like harp strings.) He owed his longevity, he told The New Haven Register last year, to "cheap Scotch and strong tobacco."

In a society as conformist as ours, we should celebrate the stunning individualism of people like Mr. Whitlock.

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