What's In A Name?

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

Once upon a time, there was a widely held belief — now often viewed as quaint if not odd in the hallways of entertainment, media and sports — that, in the “town square” of public opinion, it’s important to establish and protect “your good name.” Traditionally, “your good name” was translated to mean an amalgam of honesty, effort, integrity, good-naturedness, humility and fair-dealing.

A good name was tough to earn but easy to forfeit; it was often gained through years of living in and contributing to the business, cultural, religious or civic life of your community.

Yet today, in our society, when notoriety means celebrity; when braying and boasting, preening and prancing become the coinage of success; and when infamy and fame are mistaken as close kin; well, the notion of a good name may indeed seem like a relic of a bygone time.

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 true heroes, the men and women of the “Greatest Generation.” In this rosy afterglow, electric cooperative leaders in Virginia founded a publication, a full broadsheet newspaper, that was (and still is) intended to keep you up to date on the latest news about the electric cooperative that you and your neighbors own.

Then called Rural Virginia, it captured the all-things-are-possible mood of that time in the stories it told of farm families, and the improvements in their quality of life made possible by electricity. 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 bathwater magically made warm, and meats, dairy products and produce magically kept cold, perishable no more!

The 1950s saw Rural Virginia adopt a more contemporary magazine format, albeit still in black and white, with stories focused on the growing wave of city dwellers moving out to the countryside and the creature comforts that electricity now offered to virtually every corner of the Commonwealth.

The 1960s saw the addition of glossy paper and the use of occasional color splashed across the magazine’s pages. Columns on fashion, fancy cooking, interior design and outdoor leisure pursuits reflected the growing affluence of rural Virginians. 

In the 1970s, the magazine began regularly using full-color photos and artwork, and changed its name to Rural Living (even today, 40 years later, some long-time readers still call us Rural Virginia, which pleases us). The magazine also began covering the serious issues surrounding the oil embargoes of 1973 and ’79, and energy-efficiency articles became a regular staple in these pages.

The 1980s featured an expansion in the magazine’s standard size, from 24 pages to 32 and even 40, 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 co-op members, from “Duck” Carpenter, the Southside Virginia fiddle maker, to “Bowling Green” John Cephas, the blues musician.

The celebration of cooperative people and places continued through the ’90s, as the magazine celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996. In ’97 we added a feature that was likely our most popular ever: “Down Home” profiles of small towns, villages and crossroads communities.

Sixteen years and 160 profiles later, the series ended at the close of 2012, succeeded by our “Stories from the Road,” profiling interesting people and places found along Virginia highways and byways, starting this year, appropriately, with Route 1.

For the third and, we hope, final time, we changed our name to Cooperative Living in January 2000, to usher in what we dubbed “The Cooperative Century.” (Sadly, 13 years in, this moniker doesn’t seem to have caught on, yet we remain hopeful; after all, there are still 87 years left in this century!) Our goal, through nearly 67 years of publication life, has always been to properly represent the good name of Virginia’s 13 locally owned electric cooperatives. 

So, to answer the question posed in the headline: We hope that our name is synonymous both with good and goodwill; perhaps a thought worth pondering; information about your cooperative worth having; an energy tip worth pursuing; a place in Virginia worth visiting; or simply a smile worth keeping, from reading an article that brightened your day.  



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