More than 40 years after she wrote her first column for what was then the Johnson City Press-Chronicle, Dianne Barker still runs into people who say they have a favorite column tucked away in their Bible. Over the years, they have encouraged her to publish a collection of her work.
At long last, Barker has fulfilled her readers’ request and has put together more than 100 columns in a book titled “Cabbages and Kings: Reflections on Living Abundantly in Christ.” Barker will be signing copies of the book and greeting her readers Oct. 20 from noon to 2 p.m. at LifeWay books, 3211 Peoples St. in Johnson City.
The book, which includes a chronicle of Barker’s life, begins in the 1960s, when women had few career choices. “Most little girls dreamed of being a nurse or a teacher,” Barker said. “I had a desire in my heart to be a reporter. Where on Earth did it come from? I think it came from the Lord. It’s such a far-out dream.”
Barker’s mother encouraged her to pursue her big dream, so when she graduated from high school early — at age 16 — she applied for a job at the Press. They didn’t need a 16-year-old with no experience, so Barker enrolled at East Tennessee State University.
She visited managing editor Lee Vance again when she turned 18, but she was “still this little girl who was good at English with no writing credentials.”
In April 1965, Barker came back the third time and was given a part-time position in the “society” section. “Mr. Vance hired me to get me off his back,” she said and laughed.
In July, shortly before her 19th birthday, Barker was asked to take over the weekly entertainment column.
“Being young and bold I thought I had answers to all of life’s questions,” she said. “My very first column was on the short-term marriage pattern developing in Hollywood. I was soon to be married; I was very idealistic.”
Barker wrote a column suggesting ways to keep a marriage happy. (She and husband James have been married 47 years now.)
Soon the name of the column was changed. The Entertainment World became Cabbages and Kings to reflect the content, which was more about living by faith than living it up.
The title, taken from “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, gave Barker the freedom to write about diverse topics, including her personal experiences. Her columns chronicled her effort to maintain a deep faith and trust in God, even in “the hard places.”
“There’s so much disillusionment and heartbreak in the world,” she said. “I think there are many people struggling to find where the joy and peace are.” Over time, she said she learned, “our circumstances will never give us joy; God brings joy to our circumstances.”
When Barker graduated from college, she was given a full-time job at the newspaper. Not only did she write the column, but she also wrote news and feature stories. She covered religious events and area-wide crusades.
The celebrities she interviewed included Corrie Ten Boom, Ruth and Billy Graham, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Norman Vincent Peale, Julie and Tricia Nixon, Ethel Waters, Joan Crawford, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Patricia Neal.
In 1974, she quit the Press-Chronicle to be a stay-at-home mom, but she continued to write “Cabbages and Kings.” When it came time to pull the collection together, she realized she had about 800 columns to choose from.
“A lot of them were immature writing, I’m sure,” she said. “I picked out the ones I thought the best. ... I think there are 140 devotionals or columns, and about 20 are new. I wanted to make the book current. If I were going to share my life story, that involved growth. The afterward updates everybody on my family. My children are now married, and I have a grandchild.”
Barker describes herself as a people-person, one of the reasons she went into the newspaper business. She enjoys meeting people and talking with them, and in gratitude for what they have given her, she wants to share what she has learned over the years, acknowledging times are very different from those that 16-year-old girl knew.
“There is more disillusionment in our world than I have ever seen in my lifetime,” she said. “I want to encourage people to have hope.”
Barker also will sign books Nov. 17, noon to 2 p.m. at LifeWay in Kingsport, 2626 E. Stone Drive, as part of the store’s fifth anniversary celebration.