Sunday, January 15, 2023

A weekend with the dead

One of the drawbacks of becoming a septuagenarian is the number of people who have climbed the golden staircase before you. 

I've been reading people's comments online about Margaret Lord, a Baltimore Sun copy editor who died recently at 88. Maggie was a fixture on the copy desk at The Sun when I came on board in 1986, and she generously assisted me in acclimating. She was British, swilling endless cups of Red Rose tea, and she had an eagle eye for defects in copy. When we went on strike in 1987, after an overnight stint on the picket line, she took me home and cooked me scrambled eggs. Everyone knew her generosity of spirit and her politeness, and everyong knew that she was invariably right. 

Her ability to deal with editors and reporters without ruffling feathers was matched by the late Paul Mattix, who was also on the desk when I arrived. Paul's infectious good humor endeared him to everyone, but as an editor he had no illusions. He got along fine with les enfants terribles in features while exchanging a knowing nod with colleagues on our desk. 

You will not have heard of Dacia Dunson, a young Black woman I hired for the copy desk, who won the affection and respect of her fellow editors, and who would have had a glorious career had not cancer taken her from us. Walter Dorsett, an experienced copy editor with no illusions, was with us too briefly to get to know him thoroughly before cancer took him, too.  Connie Knox, the thorn in The Sun's side as Newspaper Guild leader, was also theoretically my subordinate, and death took her shortly after her retirement from the paper.  

At The Cincinnati Enquirer, Bill Trutner, long gone, a balding former schoolteacher as slotman gently introduced me to the customs and procedures of the copy desk. And the late Bob Johnson, my salty first news editor, offered one of his country expressions as a caution against pursuing a futile line of questioning: "Son, you're looking up a dead hog's ass."  

Lowell and Gene Denton, who gave me a start as a high school and college student during summers at The Flemingsburg Gazette from 1968 to 1973, indulged me in youthful excesses and gave me an introduction to the practicalities of journalism at a weekly newspaper in rural Kentucky that proved to be of enduring value. 

And I am left to honor their shades.