My retirement today after 43 uninterrupted years with daily newspapers, including 33 years at the Telegraph Herald, triggers more memories than I can mention here. I strictly enforced a word-count limit on local op-ed contributors, so I will honor the same 600-word standard.
I first considered journalism when I was a pre-teen delivering the Chicago Tribune. When I learned that sportswriters attend Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bears games for free and get paid, I could scarcely believe it. I figured I’d do that — but only after my days playing for the Cubs.
My high school newspaper adviser, Helen McConnell, encouraged me and emphasized journalism fundamentals. I returned to visit and thank Miss McConnell a few times after high school — but not nearly often enough.
In 1976, days out of University of Missouri journalism school, I joined The Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig as a sportswriter (and got into games free). The folks in Quincy later took a chance and promoted a 23-year-old into newsroom management.
Other editors and publishers took similar chances — in Winona, Minn.; Ottumwa, Iowa; and finally, Dubuque.
My first 30 years at the TH, which included a yearlong special assignment, was as executive editor. It was the best job in the world and the worst job in the world — sometimes on the same day.
It afforded travel opportunities, here and abroad, including Thailand, Cuba, Guatemala, Russia and Panama.
It involved interviews with candidates for public offices from the courthouse to the White House. Presidential hopefuls I met included George W. Bush, Joe Biden, John McCain, Alexander Haig, the infamous Gary Hart and the dark horse of dark horses, a business executive named Morry Taylor.
It required interaction with some sketchy characters (politicians excluded).
It’s a job where anyone with a telephone, email account or postage stamp can taunt, second-guess and threaten you over anything and everything.
Yet, it’s also a job connecting with generous and thoughtful people from all walks of community life, from our First Citizen Award recipients to subscribers with questions, compliments or suggestions.
Journalists operate on a diet of limited positive feedback, so even small gestures of affirmation or appreciation nourish them toward continuing their challenging responsibilities.
Speaking of appreciation, I appreciate that three years ago the higher-ups at Eighth and Bluff honored my request to step down as executive editor but stick around in a reduced role. I continued as editorial writer and Opinion page editor; handled special editorial projects; and assisted my longtime colleague, friend and most capable successor, Amy Gilligan.
Over our nearly 30 years together, I valued Amy’s support, counsel and feedback, even and especially when she told me I was wrong.
I could not have made it to this day without the unfailing support of my wife of 41 years, Ann. She patiently put up with the relocations early in my career, my long hours and, along with our four kids — Kate, Andy, Ellen and Greg — allegedly the latest family dinnertime in Dubuque.
I’ve been blessed to work with hundreds of talented and dedicated colleagues throughout our organization, but especially the journalists. They sacrifice nights, weekends and holidays to serve you, the reader. Believe me, they aren’t in it for the money.
As I sign off, anticipating more time for travel and non-fiction book-writing, including corporate histories, I encourage readers, advertisers and civic leaders to note what you have in the TH.
We’re not perfect. But in an industry suffering nationally under corporate and absentee ownership, the TH is a rarity: an employee-owned enterprise with many Dubuque natives and longtime residents. Its community roots are more than 180 years deep.
We live here. We work here. We care.
See you around town.