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Bill Pratt’s career in journalism began in high school. Attending Tillsonburg High School in the 1940s, Bill would take on the job of yearbook editor in his graduating year, overseeing the production of the first post-war edition, the 1946 Tatler.
In the spring of 1947, Gordon Craig, editor of Tillsonburg News, offered Bill a job as the sole reporter for the paper. A local Courtland boy, Bill had spent his summers during high school working on farms priming tobacco for nine dollars a day, his first pay as a reporter was $18 per week. This pay cut still has Bill chuckling and shaking his head to this day.
While working for the paper in the summer of 1947, Bill crossed paths with fellow Tillsonburg High School alumni, Bruce Byrnes. Bruce had a summer job as the Tillsonburg correspondent for the Woodstock Sentinel-Review and was enrolled in the new degree in Journalism program, being offered at the University of Western Ontario in London. By the end of the summer, Bruce had convinced Bill to join him at Western. Bruce was in the first graduating class of this new program. Many of Bill’s classmates were veterans of World War II, whose academic careers had been interrupted by the war. Bill has often remarked that he learned just as much out of the classroom, as he did in it, by being part of this dynamic group. While at Western, Bill would cut his journalism teeth at the U.W.O. Gazette covering mostly sports, working his way up to Managing Editor in his final year.
While Bill was at Western, J.C.R. “Chuck” McKnight took over the reporter job at the Tillsonburg News. Ernie Homewood, editor at the time, asked Bill to come back in the summers to work at the paper, but before he would agree, Bill negotiated a raise for both himself and Chuck to $30 dollars a week.
Bill graduated in 1950 and both Ernie and Chuck encouraged him to return to the Tillsonburg News. By 1952, Ernie Homewood had left the paper and Bill, journalism degree in hand, became editor. H.F. Johnston was the publisher and majority owner and he promised Bill and Chuck that if they stayed with the paper they would be given the first opportunity to take over the business in the future. He was true to his word and later Chuck and Bill became the publishers and majority owners of the Tillsonburg News and its parent company Otter Valley Publishing.
Bill took the role of editor for a “community” newspaper seriously, becoming involved in the community the paper served. He put down roots, marrying a nurse, Marion Elliott, in 1956 and started a family. Marion had no doubt she had married a newspaper man when their first home was the apartment located over the Tillsonburg News office at 136 Broadway (current location of the Optometrists on Broadway).
Over the years, the location of the news office would change as the business grew, from Broadway to Tillson Ave and eventually a new purpose- built building in the Industrial park on Townline. Bill and Chuck McKnight would remain partners, Bill as editor of the paper while Chuck handled the business side of the operation. Bill retired in the late 1980s, after 41 years as editor. Throughout his career Bill witnessed many changes to both the community and the newspaper business, but one thing remained constant, Bill’s work ethic and attitude which is best summed up in a statement he expressed many times over the years “I didn’t think I was working for the newspaper, I thought I was working for the community.”