(April 3) In late spring of 1964, he found a job listing at the University of Missouri’s journalism school for an editorial-advertising position at The Packer in Kansas City, Mo. He had just earned his degree, was newly married and needed a job.

The fact that the publication was in Kansas City was appealing. His wife, you see, was a junior at Mizzou, and the university in Kansas City recently had become affiliated with the Columbia school. So, he applied for the post that he reckoned was on a meatpacking publication.

He landed the job and learned one of journalism’s basic tenets. Never assume anything. The Packer had nothing to do with meat packing and everything to do with produce.

Thus, on July 1, 1964, Larry Waterfield began his career at The Packer and Vance Publishing Corp., becoming the newspaper’s first hire under the ownership of the Vance family, which had purchased the paper earlier that year.

What a ride it’s been.

The newspaper’s office was in a bad part of town, but that didn’t matter to the young Moberly, Mo., native. He was told he would “get to cover the whole country.”

Shortly thereafter, Larry was on his way to Luverne, Minn. He was what we called a fieldman, and his territory ranged from Minnesota to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, from Illinois to the Colorado border.

Through the years and with changes in assignments, Larry ventured to more exotic locales — Colombia, Canada, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, England and Germany, to name a few of the places he has filed stories and columns from.

He spent only a couple of years in Kansas City, and he swears he wouldn’t have lasted had he stayed here longer. Anyway, after his wife graduated from college, she and Larry decided to move on to greener, if unknown, pastures.

But when Larry went to The Packer’s general manager, Jim Connell, to resign, the far-sighted exec said, “Don’t quit. How about moving to Florida?”

“Where?” Larry asked.

“Wherever you want,” Connell replied.

We know it’s true — Larry told us so.

Soon thereafter, Larry and his wife were headed to West Palm Beach in their Mustang convertible. It was to be home to the Waterfield clan for the next 9½ years. And it was from Florida that Larry made many of this trips to Latin and South America, including one to Bogota, Colombia, during which Chilean President Salvador Allende was assassinated.

But it was a journey to Immokalee, Fla., that Larry regales in telling. As a favor to his Vance colleagues at Red Book Credit Services, Larry tracked down a drunken watermelon shipper at Nick’s Bar. Seems the shipper owed Red Book a few dollars. While talking to the shipper, Larry says, a man covered with blood and brandishing a pistol burst into the bar. Everyone hit the floor. Everyone but the watermelon shipper, who refused to abandon his drink. Seems the blood-covered man had, in Larry’s words, “been practicing quick draw outside the bar and shot himself in the leg.” The past-due bill? Larry failed to collect.

We know it’s true — Larry told us so.

It was not until after Larry quit in a huff after a dispute with his editor that he made his biggest mark on The Packer. Eight months later, Larry met Bill Coon, then the newspaper’s publisher, at a convention in Hilton Head, S.C. Shortly thereafter, Coon asked Larry to open a Washington, D.C., bureau for The Packer and several of Vance’s livestock publications. Larry accepted and, in 1978, moved to northern Virginia.

“It’s an exciting place to be in the news business,” Larry says of the nation’s capital. “My beat included everything — Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court and the whole alphabet of agencies.

“If I could find a way to get produce in the lead, I could cover damn near anything.”

And he has. He’s covered Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush. He’s covered all of the agriculture secretaries during these five administrations, developing a close relationship with John Block, considered by many to be the guiding force behind the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He’s interviewed Leon Panetta, a congressman from Salinas, Calif., who went on to become Clinton’s chief of staff; Lloyd Bentsen, a lawmaker and citrus grower in Texas; and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.

He interviewed and wrote a Page A1 article on Cesar Chavez when some on this very newspaper, to their discredit, wanted the labor leader ignored.

Through it all, Larry’s been an advocate of his roots — rural America. He even wrote a book about that subject, “Conflict and Crisis in Rural America,” in 1986.

More important, he’s been an advocate of his readers. He remembers them in all he does.

Larry says The Packer has changed in the past four decades.

“The Packer is a much better publication now,” he says.

For example, the use of fieldmen has long been discarded. Reporters, rightly so, Larry points out, no longer sell ads. And the newspaper doesn’t shy from controversial stories.

We like to think that’s true. After all, Larry told us so.

Of one thing there’s no doubt: Larry played a monumental role in that improvement.

“I’ve tried to be independent, evenhanded,” Larry says. “I’ve not been a shill for anyone.”

Larry’s done more than try. He’s lived up to those words. And, by so doing, he’s set an example for his colleagues.

Unlike on that late spring day in 1964, Larry no longer needs a job. He retired March 29, after nearly 38 years with Vance Publishing. He will continue to write columns and editorials for The Packer.

It’s been my privilege to work with him and get to know him during the past five years. I wish that time could have been longer.

Thanks, Larry.