It started during the Ford administration at a rural Westmoreland County employer called the Observer. Eight presidents later, it ended on Friday afternoon with a city-based employer called the Observer.
I think it’s fair that I made my career by being an observer – the good, bad, and ugly of the world.
I’ve been a print journalist for 46 years, an ink-stained guy, as the breed was once called. I vacillated between contempt and embrace of the profession and even left once, only to eagerly jump in again. I missed the work and the unique camaraderie of a newsroom.
Now I’m jumping out. After almost nine years with the Observer Reporter, I’ve just recently retired full-time … one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Unfortunately for some of you, I am not really leaving the operating room and as a freelancer I will continue to write Sunday business stories and magazine articles. Hey, I can’t completely part.
But it’s time to sit back, kick back, enjoy the first grandchild, travel with my life partner, and ponder the mystery of why my once beloved Pitt Panthers are never really good at football. And while my health is good.
Oh, the memories I’ve had since August 1975 when I started my career at the Standard Observer in Irwin and then continued them one by one at News Dispatch (Jeannette); Daily News (McKeesport); Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and the OP.
Of these six only the latter two are left.
My earliest employers couldn’t have guessed that I had moved a lot. The press was my fourth newspaper in less than three years. But then there were more daily publications in the community, more opportunities for upward mobility, and I’ve always found a better job. I worked in Pittsburgh for 32½ years before accepting a buyout from PG.
The craziest memory was working for an editor, a kind man who later became a bank robber. He was known as “The Hat Bandit” for the multitude of chapeaus he wore on each subsequent raid before he was captured.
(Do a Google search for hat bandit and Westmoreland County.)
I will never forget getting a one-on-one interview with Vin Scully, the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time, as a 20 year old intern. Or, sit in the Atlanta Braves dugout at Three Rivers Stadium and speak to team owner Ted Turner before a game to see why he took over as manager that night. (His term ended before midnight.)
I still feel like the champagne spray Tim McCarver sent me to the Phillies locker room after they beat the Pirates to claim the Division title – a year before the Pirates would win the 1979 World Series.
There was the ice storm in January 1977 when I was flying back from New York – matching the penguins. We were not allowed to land at Greater Pittsburgh Airport and were walking back to the Big Apple when the pilot, concerned about the fuel level, arranged to land in Philadelphia. We stayed here for a day, the only time I’ve ever been to Philly.
I’ve worked with talented, dedicated journalists on every newspaper and I’ve seen their diligence pay off on three Pulitzer Awards – two in the press for two consecutive years and one in the PG.
The Post-Gazette won another one after I left for its coverage of the 2018 synagogue massacre, an award well deserved.
My career in Pittsburgh was successful, but included an excruciating seven-month Teamsters strike in 1992 that resulted in the permanent shutdown 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 although we could work we did not publish.
One day, the company decided to do just that in a print shop elsewhere. If we wanted to get paid, we had to go into the building. I had a 1 year old, a second child on the way and no choice. The pages we taped together never left the parking lot.
My best memory there, however, is one that remains happy. I met my future wife Margi in the press and 33 years, three children and 10 vaccinations later, we are still beaming.
I took a buyout from PG in 2010 and took what I thought was an ideal opportunity to change my career. I was in my mid-50s with a killer resume and didn’t know the harsh reality of age discrimination was going to hit me in the face again and again.
I worked several part-time gigs for 22 months, survived but missed what I really loved. It was then that the Northrop family, who had just published a monthly “Energy Report,” saved me with a job in energy and business. Thank you Tom Northrop and Lucy Northrop Corwin.
I applied in the operating room four times over the decades and was eventually hired. This began a fruitful run that enabled me to meet hundreds of wonderful people: entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, elected officials, company leaders. I’ve even covered two presidents: Donald Trump twice and Joe Biden, the latter when he launched his campaign for the White House in Lawrenceville two years ago.
In the operating room I have won or shared more writing prizes (seven) than in the last 30 years (five).
Kudos also to my colleagues in the newsroom in the operating room, to all first-class professionals, to all classmates. There wasn’t anyone I didn’t like in my nine years – be it in person or on a zoom. This was and is a well run organization.
All in all, it’s been a great run for this Yinzer who has never lived outside of southwest Pennsylvania.
So it’s a good trip, goodbye and arrivederci for the five-day work week – without leaving entirely.