THE Tele's longest serving reporter is putting down his pen for the last time after 40 years on the journalistic frontline in Inverclyde.

Eric Baxter today calls time on a career that has spanned many thousands of deadlines.

Since he first walked through the door in October 1977, the highly respected journalist has covered all the highs and lows of the community.

He reported from inside the yards as the shipbuilding industry sadly collapsed, helped campaign to save the hospital and even had a hand in stopping Inverclyde losing its local authority status.

It was also Eric who first broke the major story that thousands of cervical smear tests had been misread at Inverclyde Royal, which developed into a nationwide scandal.

Eric has also shared his common sense views, advice and humour in his much read column The Way I See It.

But in between all of this he has managed to squeeze in 46 marathons and raise money for local good causes.

Eric, who turns 65 next month, said: "I am very proud to be part of the Tele and I will miss it.

"The paper is a vital part of the community and plays a really crucial role.

"There are many stories which stand out.

"We played a major role in saving the hospital.

"We also played a major role in a campaign to keep Inverclyde Council - Inverclyde came within only a couple of votes of being absorbed into Renfrewshire during a reorganisation and the Tele had a hand in making a difference."

Other memorable assignments for Eric included a stint in the Falkland Islands in 1987 with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who were posted there at the time.

In his time at the Tele Inverclyde has changed beyond all recognition.

Eric said: "When I first arrived shipbuilding was still thriving and there were launches all the time.

"When the yards came out there were just droves of people, but one by one they were all gone."

But after covering the demise of the shipbuilding industry Eric is delighted that it has shown a recent revival.

He added: "The success of Ferguson's has been one of the brightest things to happen in Inverclyde in recent times.

"They are taking on young local apprentices rather than bringing in experience from elsewhere and that is good."

The Tele has also changed massively since Eric first started out, as technology transforms the newspaper industry.

Eric said: "The office was a different place when we used typewriters and a telephone!

"There were no computers or emails and two editions of the paper at that time."

During his time at the Tele Eric has taken a leading role in covering politics at all levels.

He has worked with all politicians down the years including MPs Dr J Dickson Mabon, David Cairns, Norman Godman and former Provost Freddie Fletcher.

He covered many General Elections, the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 and interviewed countless senior ministers along the way.

Eric, who also served for 30 years as the Tele's National Union of Journalists representative, added: "One of the most important roles for the paper is holding the council and other politicians to account."

Glasgow-born Eric's first job in journalism was with the Scottish Daily Express as a copy boy when he left Rutherglen Academy aged 16.

He was inspired to follow in the footsteps of his dad Alex Baxter, who died in 1966 when Eric was only 13.

Eric said: "My dad was a freelance reporter covering news and sport for newspapers and he also appeared on Scotsport.

"He was also a runner with the Shettleston Harriers. "He is the reason I became a reporter and took up running.

"He was the biggest influence on my life."

Eric initially worked as a showbiz reporter covering TV and films and was assistant letters editor.

After leaving the Express he worked with Radio Clyde on writing and producing commercials.

He was taken on as a reporter with the Tele by Ian Erskine Orr and has served under 10 editors since.

It was while working at the Telegraph that Eric, who is married to Cathie, a retired biology teacher, was 'persuaded' by a former news editor to sign up for Inverclyde's first ever marathon.

He soon caught the marathon bug and is still going strong now.

He said: "Whereever I go in Inverclyde people ask me if I am still running. I have enjoyed running marathons and raising money for good causes in Inverclyde."

Eric's connections with Inverclyde will continue when he retires as his daughter Emma, 26, who works as a translator, is an accomplished runner and a member of Glenpark Harriers.

Eric said: "I am very proud of her and to have three generations of the family involved in running."

Looking towards his retirement Eric said: "I will miss everyone and I would like to thank everyone who has helped me through the years.

"I will definitely spend more time running and walking."

Many colleagues past and present have been paying tribute to Eric as he retires.

Former editor Stewart Peterson said: "Eric was a long term colleague who I greatly admire as a friend and a very reliable member of staff. He is an excellent journalist and not a bad runner!"

Brian Hossack, his 10th and final editor, said: "In such a turbulent industry, to work at one place for 40 years is a remarkable achievement.

"Eric embodies the Telegraph in that he is trusted by Inverclyde and has served its people with vigour, diligence and verve during a distinguished career.

"He will be sorely missed by everyone in the newsroom and it will be strange to see someone else sitting at his desk in the new year.

"I would like to thank him for all his efforts since I became editor, and I'm sure those who held the position before me would echo those sentiments.

"I wish him a happy and very well-earned retirement."