When longtime newsman Mel Toadvine died Thursday, Nov. 18, it was the 44th anniversary of the day he was named managing editor of The Daily Times.
“He came full circle,” his daughter, Kristina Toadvine VanMeter, said the weekend after her father, 80, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., died in his sleep, a gentle smile on his face. A celebration of life, likely for family, will be planned later.
A native of Wicomico County, Toadvine had been recently hospitalized for pneumonia but had returned home. His death was unexpected.
In 1977, at age 37, he was promoted to Acting Managing Editor of The Daily Times — at that time called the Salisbury Daily and Sunday Times — a publication he molded into a true community newspaper readers turned to, and depended on, not only for information but for editorial opinions, feature articles, sports and letters to the editor he brought home and edited with the green felt-tipped pen he carried in his shirt pocket.
He was hired at The Daily Times in 1961 as a photographer and was Assistant News Editor at the time of the promotion. He was also, previously, General Assignment Reporter and Features Writer and worked on the News Desk.
The oldest of four children raised by a single mother, Melvin James Toadvine — camera in hand — photographed politicians, celebrities and newsworthy events, from civil rights protests to devastating fires.
This fall an exhibit of his photos, “Capturing the Times: The Photojournalism of Mel Toadvine” went on display in the Guerrieri Academic Commons at Salisbury University. Free and open to the public, it will continue through the end of December.
During a phone interview from his home when the exhibit opened, Toadvine said that over his years as Managing Editor, it wasn’t unusual for Delaware’s U.S. Sen. Joe Biden to drop by the Salisbury Newsroom on Carroll Street.
“Joe Biden told me, ‘Mel, it has crossed my mind to run for president someday.’ I said, ‘Would you write a letter and tell me why you would want to be president?’ I gave him stationery and I gave him a pen. He sat down and wrote a letter, four or five or six paragraphs. It’s packed up now, in boxes that are in my closet. He would come into the office from time to time and he became a friend. I did get to meet a lot of impressive people and I did enjoy meeting them and talking to them on a person-to-person basis, like a friend,” Toadvine said.
“John Kennedy I did not meet but I took his picture. Gloria Richardson was a black leader in Cambridge. She was an activist. I was lucky to meet a lot of nice, good, important people.”
For his reporting and photography of the March 1962 Storm that decimated the Maryland and Delaware beach communities, Toadvine was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Toadvine succeeded Dick Moore as Times editor. During his time on the News Desk — designing news pages and editing stories — Toadvine had distinguished himself for his creating layouts and use of photos and headlines. He brought a new look to the publication, which boasted a circulation of 40,000 copies and was distributed in three states.
As editor, Toadvine capitalized on his community connections and love of local gossip, finding the real news in sometimes-wild stories and connecting events to local figures.
For hours each day, he would vet stories by phone and receive visitors to his glass-enclosed office on Carroll Street.
Even on the manual typewriters that were in use until 1980, he could type 95 words per minute, typing as fast as he could think.
He always said his training at Goldey Beacom business college in Wilmington, from which he graduated, was the reason for his amazing speed as a typist.
To keep from stopping to replace the paper between the rollers, he placed continuous-feed paper between the typewriter’s rolls — using the same paper that fed continuously printing Associated Press wire machines.
Across the decades, Toadvine hired and mentored several reporters and editors who gained either national or local fame, including Brice Stump, Erick Sahler, Glen Tolbert, Rowan Scarborough, Paul Bedard, Bill Robinson, Tracy Myrup, Cathy Collier and Liz Holland.
The Daily and Sunday Times was a perennial winner of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association “Newspaper Of The Year” in its circulation category, under his leadership.
After departing The Daily Times during a Thomson Newspapers corporate management shakeup, Toadvine and his wife moved to Florida in 1997.
There, he continued his career with a renewed vigor, writing, photographing and editing community news as he had done years before. He retired as editor of the Lehigh Acres Citizen newspaper in 2017, when he was 77.
Born Dec. 12, 1940, Toadvine grew up on property his family owned on Mount Hermon Road, the site of a once-bustling chicken hatchery.
“His fond memories were growing up on that farm,” said his daughter, who lives in Hebron and works at Wor-Wic Community College.
“It was a huge farm. There were out buildings and people who lived inside, who helped his mother and father. There were quarters and separate houses on the property. He had fond memories of all those times. When he was a teenager he moved to Easton and went to Easton High School, then he came back to Salisbury.
“He wasn’t an outdoorsman. He didn’t go fishing or crabbing. He was an intellectual. Everything was always about his work but he loved it. It wasn’t like it was a grueling thing for him. It was his passion and it was a positive thing. He liked history. He would immerse himself in history. He liked to read biographies.”
“He knew a lot about politics. My son, Ben, when he was younger, had an affinity for history so my dad would send him books about people in history, and he would write something, inscriptions, in all of the books he gave to us,” she said.
“He liked to write so he encouraged us to write. He always kept a journal. I read one of his journals from his younger days and he said, ‘You better be careful what you read,’” she said, laughing.
Toadvine, his daughter said, adored his mother and, as a young man, sent her money when he received his paychecks.
“She was such a strong woman and she just loved all her children. That was why he was so good at raising me to be a strong woman. He encouraged a love of learning. He taught through example and always told me I could be anything if I put my mind to it,” said Toadvine VanMeter.
The Toadvines’ son, David, and wife Laura, of Fort Myers, Fla., have three children.
Toadvine met his wife, Barbara, six years his junior, while interviewing her after she was named Miss Salisbury Fire Prevention when she was 16 or 17. His daughter said her father enjoyed telling the story of being a young reporter and getting the assignment to cover that event, but missing it.
The editor told him the article had to be published and sent Toadvine out to find the young woman and come back with a picture and details.
Toadvine unearthed her home address, drove to her parents’ house in his baby blue Ford Mustang, knocked on the door and explained his predicament to her mother.
“I’m sure my grandmother invited him in and there was food. I’m sure they sat down and talked while my mother got her dress back on. And then there was that picture opportunity. He got that picture that would be published, then as he was leaving he asked her out,” Toadvine VanMeter said.
Toadvine, friendly and outgoing, would talk to anyone but at home enjoyed quiet time, being with his family, living a simple life. Unimpressed with material goods, he enjoyed watching news on TV, making breakfast and baking using family recipes, including one for a moist applesauce cake.
A man of faith, he believed in the afterlife and looked forward to seeing loved ones that had died.
When he lost his mother in 2003, he asked Toadvine VanMeter to read, at the memorial service, a tribute he wrote stating he was certain the woman who raised him was in a better place, without pain and suffering, and that he cherished how she “loved him lavishly.”
She would always remain in his heart, until the day he died, he wrote, and he hoped his children fully understood the depth of his affection for them.
“When we would talk on the phone, he ended every conversation by telling us how much he loved us,” the daughter said, reading from that tribute.
“In the end,” Toadvine wrote, “all we have left is love.”