(Guru's note: Since enough requests have come, here is the text, with some explanations in parentheses, of the farewell speech given Thursday afternoon by the Guru to Inquirer colleagues past and present at a newsroom reception for his "retirement" effective after Friday night's shift. The email address and access will continue for three more weeks after going off the payroll.
The speech is focused more on the 40-plus years of Inquirer life because as the Guru has said, the blog will continue either here or at another address -- stay tuned -- and his chronicling of women's basketball will also move forward. A story on the basketball life, which was suppose to appear in Friday's sports section, apparently is on a brief hold due to the crush of sports news involving live coverage of the Flyers, Phillies and the NFL draft. Jonathan or yours truly will advise when it appears.).
THE GURU INQUIRER GOODBYE SPEECH TRANSCRIPT
To begin, short of just mentioning my self-appointed mentor and patron Ron Patel, and our former late night city editor Michael Comerford, aka the Commodore who was the leader of the group known as the whack jobs, of which I guess I was one, I’d like us to pause and take 10 seconds or so to remember the people who have been here over the last four decades who are no longer with us on the planet and also to keep in our thoughts the well wishes to those who can’t be here because of health issues and other matters.
Let us bow our heads.
Now to get down to the entertainment portion of the program, having led a multiple life in this piece of real estate for over four decades, to arrive at this particular time is very tricky in trying to really emphasize The Inquirer side of things.
I’d like first to congratulate all of you on the employment roster who in a matter of days will each move up at least one slot on the seniority lists – actually two slots since my sports colleague Jack Ewing is crowding the door in front of me.
The bottom line is: I was here before any of you came, and it now appears I will no longer be here after any of you leave.
Incredibly, this is the third time the paper has thrown a party on my behalf, beginning in 2000 which helped launch the NCAA Women’s Final Four here.
What a year that was when I got to run the newsroom for eight months using executive editor Bob Rosenthal as my front man.
Then in 2007, there was the party downstairs for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Induction.
As for this event, well in the last two weeks I have never seen so many people around here jump through hoops just to satisfy (sports editor) Jim Cohen’s Corned Beef fetish.
You know my Boswells here writing my public bio – Mike Vitez in the past and Frank Fitzpatrick in tomorrow’s (Friday’s) paper, have focused on the women’s basketball angle which produced the notoriety in my case. But it is the journalistic life in this building that enabled the basketball experience involving myself to become a reality.
Here’s a secret for most of you. My real start in women’s athletics was driving Temple cheerleaders to men’s basketball games at the request of Al Shrier, then the sports information director.
It was the greatest thing that ever happened to Joe Juliano, then a young Temple News student sports editor who reunited with me in sports some years later.
On one particular long trip to Boston, four of them squeezed into the back seat with Joe. When we hit Beantown, Joe told me not to stop but keep driving to New Hampshire.
In the past when people have said I’m the history, it has been all about the chronicling of women’s basketball. But at this moment, in the context of the next Inquirer payroll sheet, I actually am history.
So, then where do we dive into the retrospective?
To kill the myth, I never knew Benjamin Franklin though I think I’ve used every transmission device here since his time.
When I came to the Inquirer I went out and bought a little portable Olivetti typewriter back in the day when Italy could produce a publishing system that functioned much better than Hermes (the system now used in the Inquirer newsroom).
(Thursday) night, when I was at the Women’s Big Five dinner,. I recorded a few quotes on this little digital device and then sat in the car, put on a headset, transcribed the remarks into a blackberry and, then transmitted them to the sports desk.
In between over the past four decades, from typewriters we went to telerams – if you don’t recall, don’t ask – then PSI devices, then the Radio Shack Trash 80s, and finally on to the evolution with PCs.
Remember Al Hasbrouck’s memo back in the early days? 20 megabites will be all you ever need.
Today, that’s just the amount of email I get every 30 minutes.
As I move through this, I’m trying to stay off of names, except when needed, to avoid omissions. Besides, as we go through this short narrative everyone will know the who and when of each era.
A special thanks to friendships developed downstairs from the folks throughout the Daily News.
I would like to salute all those in the room who grew together with me out of the Editorial Assistant ranks into our various achievements.
One former fellow EA here is Bryan Meehan who I found in the wire room at 3 a.m. three days after both of us were hired here on 9-9-69.
Of course a short time later, he dated some young woman in Action Line -- no that wasn’t a dating service – She eventually became Maureen Meehan without whom this party wouldn’t be possible. So as always give her a hand.
Dan DeDeluca, the pop music writer in features, shared the notoriety with me of becoming bargaining chips when the contract negotiation in the early 1990s put us into the reporter category.
To many of you off of one of my many jobs, I unwittingly became your agent, so to speak, in giving you national exposure as the liaison between the newsroom and filing your stories to the Knight-Ridder wire in Washington for other papers to use.
In fact, those folks in D.C. became part of my extended family.
Of course, the nice thing about that perk in running the wire feed was being able to file my own stories at longer lengths than the Inquirer ran them. Don McKee in sports will tell the famous story when Jay Searcy was the sports editor and handed me a newspaper with a full page blowout, but no byline, and scribbled the note, “This is what we should be doing.”
McKee immediately recognized my copy and called out behind Jay’s back – “It is what we’re doing.”
I got to know (former Inquirer executive editor) Gene Roberts before most because I was given chauffeur duties in the early days. Years later, after his retirement, I had to take him back to his house outside Washington and stay over.
After we went inside, I paused for a moment and suddenly Gene grabbed my stuff and had me follow him up the steps to show me my bedroom. It was at that moment I thought to myself, “They ought to see this scene. Who says Gene can’t carry my bags?”
In fact I think I scared him back into active duty because when he realized something was wrong with that picture, a week later he was named editor of the New York Times.
My tour of duty in features produced the great perk of former restaurant critic Elaine Tait taking me as “the other” to lunch and teaching such culinary delights as the joy of sushi.
Although sports is where I wrote most of my stories, I would like to thank all the copy and backfield and desk editors, yes especially in sports, who produced fancy displays, wrote great headlines and saved me from myself.
Of course, to save me, they actually had to learn about women’s basketball to spot any errors.
There have been wild stunts over the years, such as the time that I was to be in Los Angeles while the newsroom high command was attending a Knight-Ridder confab.
They wanted me to show up and surprise Roberts.
They hadn’t come back from dinner when I arrived at the hotel so I went to the suite and then got introduced to a well-dressed gentleman named Tony Ridder, the head of the chain.
Well, you can imagine the look of their faces when they finally arrived and there I was answering questions from Tony Ridder about Cheryl Miller and others in the women’s game.
Upon my return the next five weeks, they were my calmest in the newsroom . Everyone was treating me with kid gloves because I was now being called “Tony’s pal.”
The trips delivering the Pulitzer Prizes at the last minute because of Roberts’ reluctance to send them on their way without his seal of approval evoked a few stories – the near-attempt to put me in a helicopter and swing into Columbia University on a day with 50 mile an hour winds until I said, “Gene, playing King Kong and dying for the company doesn’t come with the job.”
Because of the experiences, I can tell you every shortcut and back alley on the West Side between the GW Bridge and upper Broadway where the Columbia journalism building is located.
Some of you are familiar about my trip taking the Duke – the cheap velvet John Wayne painting -- to France for the late Steve Lovelady’s 50th birthday to surprise him and his wife Ann Kolson. She actually worked with me in features at the time.
The plotters had a young woman from Australia meet me in Paris to keep me out of trouble and when I returned stateside Ashley Halsey – the national editor – said, “What did Helen look like?”
I responded, “I went through the green area at Orly airport like you said, I heard a woman’s voice call my name – and at that moment, I knew this was no dream that Max King, who was Roberts’ successor, and the rest of them had truly sent me abroad.”
To wrap up before Maureen hits me with the hook, no matter where this place is headed, the friendships over the years – four decades in my case – can never be erased. This has been a home with character and characters, which I guess I’m one.
You have been there in times of family illnesses and passing.
People over the years have said to me that I never see you get told when you’ve done a good job on a particular story and the like.
But that’s not what’s really important because if there were problems, I wouldn’t have been able to live this life for so long.
What matters most, however, what really is important, is the readership – the numbers on the blog and twitter – as well as people reacting to print and online coverage from all over country. They have looked to this institution as providing what they consider something special.
And because of that they have dropped notes – parents, players, former players, coaches, relatives – to simply say – thank you.
And in turn I now look at all of you in this room and say in kind – Thank You.