1983: Typist Fights Technology’s Tide

Students no longer need service, but she keeps pecking away

Barbara Coffey
Barbara Coffey has a Dell office computer now, but she still uses her Canon typewriter to produce work for clients. Staff Photo: Chris McGathey

By Meredith Shamburger | Special Contributor

Barbara Coffey laughs as she begins to talk about how she’s been able to continue working as a professional typist, even as the use of personal computers has proliferated.

Yes, she still has customers.

“Most of my customers right now are businesspeople or women who belong to organizations that need something typed,” she said. “Or, you know, I still do applications on the typewriter, and of course I do everything else on the computer.”

The 73-year-old professional typist was first profiled in Park Cities People in 1983.

A one-woman operation, Coffey operates her business out of a small office in the Turley Law Center on North Central Expressway. The part of her job that she enjoys the most is being able to meet different people.

“This is a good business to meet people,” she said.

Joyce McClellan has been using Coffey’s services since 1988 when she retired from teaching. The pair has developed a close, personal relationship.

McClellan says much of the work that Coffey does for her — presentations, membership lists, letters, or even nametags — are things that she doesn’t have time to do, doesn’t want to do, or can’t do.

“I like to be very detailed,” McClellan said. “If you’re going to do all that, you need assistance.”

Barbara Coffey, 1983Coffey first started in the typing game in 1982, after getting her seventh divorce and moving to Bryan, Texas, to work in a $5-an-hour job. She decided to move to Dallas and start typing student papers after counting the number of colleges in Dallas.

“I had $500, a typewriter, and a ream of paper,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Well, if I didn’t make it, I was looking for a job anyway.’ ”

Coffey’s main customers were SMU students. She charged $3 a page, which — in hindsight — wasn’t the smartest business decision, she says. Coffey was inundated with papers in the beginning, working 24 hours a day to finish them all.

“The only sleep I got was laying my forehead down on my typewriter,” she said.

Coffey would type papers that were due the next day while simultaneously taking on more papers that were the due the day after that.

“I didn’t stop to think, ‘Well, Barbara, you’re going to have to type them at some point in time,’ ” she said. “My God, I almost died.”

Today, most of Coffey’s clients come to her through word-of-mouth referrals because she doesn’t advertise and she doesn’t have a website. Almost all are older — Coffey says there is a generation gap in her clientele.

“I lost almost all of my student business in the ’90s,” she said.

The first casualties of the computer age were law students, most of who learned about computing during their clerkships. Soon, other students followed their lead.

“And then of course, you know, it eventually just all disappeared,” she said.

Coffey says the only way she’s managed to stay in business over the past 30 years is because she didn’t have any debt and kept expenses low.

Coffey says she has no plans to retire in the near future.

“This is my social life,” she said. “If I didn’t have this, I’d go home and sit in front of the TV. … I just can’t do that.”

Meredith Shamburger is a journalism student at SMU and an intern at People Newspapers.


On Jan. 27, we profiled Sadie McCollum, a University Park resident and psychic. McCollum made several predictions about the Park Cities, specifically that North Central Expressway would be “double-decked” in three years and that the Plaza Theater (formerly an adult moviehouse dubbed the Varsity Theater) would open in 1985. The theater opened in September.

On May 12, we published a story about the Highland Park drill team’s much-anticipated debut at the May 13 Blue-Gold scrimmage game. The team didn’t have an official name or even uniforms at its first performance, and wouldn’t become the Highland Belles until the fall.

After a three-part series covering drug and alcohol abuse among Highland Park High School students, several residents formed the Park Cities Family League, urging school administrators to take action against underage drinking.

Valedictorian: Dee Dockery
Salutatorian: Long Dang
Blanket Award winners: Carolyn Brown and Dockery

Kate Field Belknap, Lyle Roberts Blalock, Cameron Canfield, Cynthia Canfield, Catherine Anne Corrigan, Paige Eileen Nash, Carol O’Donnell

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