What's In A Name? 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

There used to be a widely held belief —now largely viewed as quaint in the hallways of entertainment, media and sports — that, in the “Town Square” of public opinion, it was important to establish and protect “your good name.” Translated, “your good name” meant honesty, effort, sincerity, good-naturedness, humility, and in the best of cases, all of these.

A good name was difficult to earn but easy to forfeit; it was often gained through years of living in and contributing to a community’s business, cultural, religious and political life, in ways large and small.

Nowadays, though, when “bad” means “good,” and any publicity is viewed as good publicity, and taunting your opponent is a strong career move, the notion of humbly building and maintaining a “good name” seems, sadly, anachronistic. 

The magazine you’re holding was born during this earlier time, in 1946, in the giddy aftermath of a world pulled from the brink of ruin by the dedicated efforts of men and women of the “Greatest Generation.” In this rosy afterglow, electric cooperative leaders in Virginia founded a publication, a full broadsheet newspaper actually, that was (and is still) intended to keep you up to date on the electric cooperative that you and your neighbors own.

Then called Rural Virginia, it captured the all-things-are-possible mood of the time in its stories about progress in farming techniques and technology. Inside the farmhouse, it joyfully covered all the new-fangled appliances that were transforming rural domestic life from a daily grind of hauling water and hanging wash to a labor-saving life of warm bathwater and cold meats, dairy products and produce, perishable no more!

The 1950s saw Rural Virginia adopt a more contemporary magazine format, though still using newsprint paper, while the 1960s saw the addition of glossy paper and the occasional use of a second color in its graphics. The ’60s also saw coverage in the magazine of how the expansion of electricity into rural areas was creating a burgeoning population boom, as urbanites sought exile from all the woes of the cities in Virginia’s countryside and small towns.

That boom resonates more loudly than ever today, in the 21st century, as electric cooperative service areas grow on average twice as fast as areas served by the large power companies.

In the 1970s, the magazine began regularly using full-color photos and artwork, and changed its name to Rural Living (though some long-time readers still refer to us to this day as Rural Virginia, evidence of loyalty that obviously delights us). The magazine also began covering the serious issues surrounding the oil embargoes of 1973 and ’79, as energy-efficiency articles became a regular staple of the magazine.

The 1980s featured an expansion in the magazine’s standard size of 24 pages, up to 32 and 40 pages, fueled by national advertisers finally recognizing the buying power of Virginia’s, and America’s, heartland. Also during the ’80s, the magazine intensified its coverage of local people and places, a trend that continued through the 1990s, as the magazine celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 and in ’97 added a feature that remains our most popular to this day: “Down Home.”

In these profiles of small towns, crossroads communities, tidy villages and emerging suburbs, we try to take our 350,000 readers on a trip to meet “some of the folks who make up the heart of electric co-op country,” as we say in the heading to each installment of this series of visits across the Commonwealth. Virginia, at least the Virginia outside the cities, is still, even with all her growth, a small big-state.

And, to usher in what we called “The Cooperative Century,” we changed our name for the third (and we hope, but cannot guarantee, final) time, to Cooperative Living, in January 2000. The magazine’s size continues to grow, to 60 pages per issue on average, as does the use of full-color, which now saturates virtually every page.

But the splashes of color, and the growing page count, must never crowd out what we are all about, which is representing in print the good name that electric cooperatives have built in every corner of the Commonwealth.

So, to answer the question posed in the headline, what’s in our name? Well, we hope that there’s a lot of good in it, whether it’s in a thought worth pondering, information on the cooperative you own worth having, an energy tip worth pursuing, a place in Virginia worth visiting, or simply a smile that comes from reading a day-brightening article.

Through all the metamorphoses we’ve gone through — newspaper to magazine, black-and-white to full-color, Rural Virginia to Rural Living to Cooperative Living — we hope we’ve established and, just as importantly, have maintained a good name. We hope we’re viewed as honest, upbeat, informed, entertaining, open to new ideas but cherishing the best of the past. Kind of like the folks who made, and make, Virginia’s rural areas, small towns and suburbs such great places to live and work.


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