Every Wednesday I have lunch with some of the other retirees from the Tri-City Herald. Although I am the second oldest of the group in terms of age, I am often the youngest in terms of Herald employment. I came to the Herald 30 years ago, in 1987.
So, since it is usual for men of a certain age (and we are usually just males, although women staffers are invited, too), the group mostly talks about past adventures at the Herald. That is, when they were much younger. The stories can be fascinating.
For example, there is the episode when the newsroom made, on company time and at company expense, a video.
I have seen it. But I didn’t need to do so. They never tire of talking about it.
The video portrays a fictional news channel operated by the Herald staff. There is news of a sort.
The best part of the video shows Chris Sivula climbing atop our old building (the cannery), then looking down on Canal Drive to give a traffic report. As old pickups rattle past, his commentary is striking. Herald veterans revel in talking about it at our lunches today. Alas, that was several years before I arrived.
If I try to tell a story from my early years as a newspaperman in Florida, eyes glaze over and someone will start rattling a glass and calling for more iced tea. And someone else will mutter about how hard it was to work with Bill Bequette, a former editor.
“You never knew what kind of feature story he wanted until you handed it in!” I would be told. Then everyone present, including me, will recite a personal story about an encounter with Bill.
Ironically, the last words I ever heard Bill say was after a lunch. I was going back to work.
“Any words for the Herald folks?” I asked.
“Tell them to put some NEWS in it!” Bill grumbled.
He was a hard man to satisfy — and a great newspaper editor.
I treasure these lunches, and one of my best memories concerns an editorial page editor who succeeded me.
Chris Sivula was a serious man. But the greatest sight-joke I ever saw was one he set up.
Glenn C. Lee, the Herald’s first publisher, and Kelso Gillenwater, the publisher when I got here, each won Tri-Citian of the Year awards. In a special alcove their portraits hung side-by-side with a blank wall between them.
Chris brought in an empty frame, held it up with his head in the center, then stood exactly in the middle of the two publishers’ portraits to the amusement of Herald staffers. Someone took a picture.
His sense of humor was a big part of his personality.
So was his personal integrity and kindness. Here is an example.
After my retirement, I was called back on Sept. 11, 2001, to put out a special editorial page and then later the publisher brought me back as a contributing editor.
I gained a brief reputation for writing “obit editorials.” Also, Chris routinely asked me questions about the editorial page history and policies, or about borderline letters to the editor, and I was glad to tell him what I knew.
Then, one day at home I got a call from him.
Sam Volpentest had died. He was 101 and an institution in the Tri-Cities. You could fill a trailer truck with the federal dollars he brought here over his long life.
I had self-doubts as I worked on the editorial. After I handed it in to Chris, I fidgeted and worried. Finally, he came out of his office. “It’s fine,” he said, quietly adding, “It’s not the editorial I called you in to write.”
Gratefully, I grabbed the editorial back from him.
Within 10 minutes — or maybe 30 — I reworked it. Chris smiled this time. I was relieved. He’d believed I could do better, and so I did.
Chris came to our Wednesday lunches whenever he could, even after he and his wife Betsy retired to Idaho. Their daughter Lauren was still a college student here. A couple of years ago he died in his sleep at their lake view home.
The crowd at his memorial service, held in a backyard of a neighborhood in which they lived here, was enormous. Among the mourners were all of us in the lunch group.
Chris is gone from the lunch group, but we still talk about him and that picture.
Matt Taylor is the retired editorial page editor for the Tri-City Herald.