It began during the Ford administration, at a rural Westmoreland County employer with “Observer” in its name. Eight presidents later, it ended Friday afternoon at a city-based employer with “Observer” in its name.
So I guess it’s appropriate that I made a career out of being an observer – of the good, bad and ugly of the world.
For 46 years, I have been a print journalist, an ink-stained wretch as the breed was once known. I’ve vacillated between despising and embracing the profession, and even left one time, only to eagerly jump back in. I missed the work, and the unique camaraderie of a newsroom.
Now I am jumping out. I am freshly retired as a full-time employee after nearly nine years at the Observer-Reporter ... one of the best jobs I have ever had. Lamentably for some of you, I am not truly leaving the O-R, and will continue writing Sunday business stories and magazine features as a freelancer. Hey, I can’t separate completely.
But it is time to cut back, sit back, enjoy that first grandchild who is due, travel with my life partner, and ponder the mystery of why my once-beloved Pitt Panthers are never really good in football. And while my health is good.
Oh, the memories I’ve accumulated since August 1975, when I launched my career at the Standard-Observer in Irwin, then continued it – in succession – at the News-Dispatch (Jeannette); Daily News (McKeesport); Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and the O-R.
Of those six, only the latter two are still standing.
My earliest employers could not have appreciated that I moved around a lot. The Press was my fourth newspaper in less than three years. But there were more community daily publications then, more opportunities for upward mobility, and I always stepped into a better job. I ended up working in Pittsburgh for 32½ years before accepting a buyout at the P-G.
The craziest memory was working for an editor, a kindly man, who later became a bank robber. He was known as “The Hat Bandit,” for the variety of chapeaus he donned at each subsequent holdup before he was captured.
(Do a Google search on hat bandit and Westmoreland County.)
I will never forget, as a 20-year-old student intern, getting a one-on-one interview with Vin Scully, the greatest baseball broadcaster ever. Or sitting in the Atlanta Braves dugout at Three Rivers Stadium, speaking with team owner Ted Turner before a game, inquiring as to why he took over as manager that evening. (His managing tenure ended before midnight.)
I still feel the spray of champagne Tim McCarver sent my way in the Phillies locker room after they beat the Pirates to clinch the division title – a year before the 1979 Pirates would win the World Series.
There was the ice storm in January 1977, when I was flying back from New York – appropriately with the Penguins. We weren’t allowed to land at Greater Pittsburgh Airport and headed back toward the Big Apple, when the pilot – concerned about the fuel level – arranged to land in Philadelphia. We stayed for the day, the only time I have ever been in Philly.
I’ve worked with talented, dedicated journalists at every paper, and saw their diligence pay off in three Pulitzer Prizes – two at the Press, in back-to-back years, and one at the P-G.
The Post-Gazette won another after I was gone, for its coverage of the 2018 synagogue massacre, an award that was richly deserved.
My career in Pittsburgh was prosperous, but included an agonizing seven-month Teamsters strike in 1992 that led to the ultimate closure of the Press. It also featured one of the scariest experiences of my life: crossing an angry picket line. The Press newsroom was not unionized, and while we were able to work, we did not publish.
One day, the company decided to do just that, at a print facility elsewhere. If we wanted to get paid, we had to enter the building. I had a 1-year-old, a second child on the way and no choice. The pages we pasted together never left the parking lot.
My best memory there, however, is a happily enduring one. I met my future wife, Margi, at the Press, and 33 years, three kids and 10 vaccine shots later, we are still beaming.
I took a buyout from the P-G in 2010, seizing what I believed to be an ideal opportunity to change careers. I was in my mid-50s with a killer resume, not realizing the harsh reality of age discrimination was about to smack me in the face again and again.
For 22 months, I worked multiple part-time gigs, surviving but missing what I truly loved. That’s when the Northrop family, who had just launched a monthly “Energy Report,” rescued me with a job offer to cover energy and business. Thank you, Tom Northrop and Lucy Northrop Corwin.
I applied to the O-R four times over the decades and finally was hired. That began a fruitful run that enabled me to meet hundreds of wonderful people: business owners, entrepreneurs, elected officials, corporate leaders. I even covered two presidents: Donald Trump twice and Joe Biden, the latter when he kicked off his campaign for the White House two years ago in Lawrenceville.
The O-R is where I won or shared in more writing awards (seven) than I did in previous 30-plus years (five).
Kudos also to my newsroom peers at the O-R, all top-shelf professionals, all class individuals. There was no one I did not like in my nine years – be it in person or on a Zoom. This was, and remains, a well-run organization.
On balance, it has been marvelous run for this yinzer, who has never lived outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
So it is bon voyage, auf wiedersehen and arrivederci to the five-day work week – without going away completely.