This is a post I started a half-dozen times over the past three years and I could never get through it. I would set it aside and then revisit it a few weeks or months later and then I still wouldn’t be able to finish.
Because it was just too hard for me to finish.
It’s a post about Ted, a longtime editor and publisher I worked for for eight years in the 1990s.
It was eight memorable years working for one of the most interesting and eccentric people you’ll ever meet in this business. I never got a chance to say goodbye to Ted. I found out from a former coworker three years ago that he had died of lung cancer at 72.
I was reminded of that this week. It has been almost exactly three years since he died.
I don’t know if Ted ever smoked. He was from the generation in which virtually everyone smoked, but I never saw him once light up a cigarette. Perhaps he smoked long ago. But, ultimately, I don’t believe it matters. No one deserves lung cancer. I watched my dad die of it 38 years ago and despite his four pack-a-day habit, he didn’t deserve that. And 15 percent of the people who die from it never smoked a single cigarette, anyway, so … so what. So, I’m not here to lecture about smoking.
Anyway, it was under Ted that I first became a sports editor. Ted had a vast amount of knowledge and interest in sports. He played basketball at Lafayette University (and my publisher at the time played basketball for the University of Texas. Wow, did I ever feel like a schmoe around those two.). He local sports for 20 years. He was a huge Mariners and Seahawks fan. I had a lot of fun taunting him with how bad the Mariners’ bullpen was in the late 1990s:
“Hey, did you see that eighth inning last night?”
(Ted’s voice) “Oh, my God, I want to kill Bobby Ayala. I swear I hate him, I want him to just die …”
Ted once made the funniest joke I’ve ever heard. We were talking about the NFL or something and he blurted out, “I swear if Hitler played the Dallas Cowboys, I’d cheer for Hitler …” (Making this very funny was the fact that Ted was Jewish.). I literally fell out of my chair laughing.
I was hired there partly to build up the sports coverage on San Juan Island. Ted was one of the few people in this business that I could actually talk hockey with.
Back in those days, if you didn’t have cable, the only TV you would get was CBC in Vancouver, so lots of people there watched the Canadian hockey they’d show from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Saturday night (and seven nights a week during the Stanley Cup Playoffs).
In order to write this column, I need to be honest. Ted and I used to really butt heads a lot. I mean, a lot. Because Ted often had a way of doing things that went against everything I was taught in Journalism 101 that would leave me pulling my hair out. He tended to dedicate too much space in his stories talking about the officiating, he had a real blind spot for his own biases sometimes, etc.
One of the biggest fights I remember us getting into was when I covered a state semifinal baseball game, I wrote that an outfielder made a “Ron Swoboda-ish” diving catch to get the final out in the bottom of the seventh. We had an argument that went around in circles for hours because he wanted to change it to Ken Griffey-ish because he had never heard of Ron Swoboda (I did have the edge on him on baseball). I know this must sound petty, but we went around in circles over this for literally six to eight hours. I won that battle. “Ron Swoboda-ish” stayed, but our feathers were ruffled for days afterward.
So, his pet name for me was “the Claude Lemieux of reporters.”
For those who aren’t hockey fans, Claude Lemieux (no relation to Mario) was a pesky, dirty, cheap shot player from the 1990s, the kind of guy the NHL has mostly run out of the league today. That was about the worst insult he could think to throw at me. He thought it was funny to call me Claude Lemieux because he knew it got under my skin. I would just respond, “that doesn’t even make sense.”
But through all that fighting and hair-pulling, I couldn’t help but like the man. He was wickedly funny. He had some weaknesses, sure, we all do, but he also had strengths. Things I genuinely learned from. Ted had a unique ability to sniff out quirky, off-the-wall human-interest stories like no one else I’ve ever seen. For years, I had been nothing but a pure meat and potatoes reporter, in fact, at one paper I worked at, the paper was literally nothing but board meetings and all I did was sit in commission meetings for 40 hours a week. It was pretty damn boring.
So, this is something I’ve tried to take to heart — that these are the kinds of stories that make small-town newspapers valuable to their communities. Trust me, I’m nowhere near as good at it as he was. He simply found stories that no one else could. He did it by wandering through the streets of Eastsound on his way to lunch and listening. And that was the biggest thing I learned from Ted.
At the end, despite all of our battles, when I left, we embraced and all was forgiven. We kept in touch for a few years until Ted retired and moved to Hungary for a while to research his family background (much of his family was wiped out in the Holocaust). After he moved to Budapest, I completely lost track of him. He apparently moved back to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, but I didn’t realize that and I certainly was shocked to hear that he had become ill and quickly passed away.
That was a rough summer. A coworker of mine died of breast cancer and a good friend of mine died of complications from AIDS and then Ted, all in a period of about four weeks. He was a big part of my career and my life for eight years.
And the danger of drifting away … you don’t get to say goodbye.