March 19, 2008


Chris Reidy.jpg


In 1988, I was a senior at the University of Florida struggling to finish my journalism degree. A year earlier, my dad had more or less pulled the plug on paying for college, and, well, that's a long story. The bottom line was: I was on borrowed time.

I had a handful of classes to finish so that I could get the degree. One of those was an applied journalism class with a teacher named Hugh Cunningham. The class involved creating a makeshift newsroom and rotating duties among students. Everyone got to be a reporter, a copy editor, a page designer and the editor. Each week, we'd produce a page of campus news that would be printed in the Gainesville Sun. The class was great experience - you got your name on some clips, you were printed in a real off-campus publication, and you got to rub elbows with a guy who helped train Dan Rather.

So, the semester rolls along. About the fourth week or so, it comes my turn to go down to the Gainesville Sun and pretend to be a journalist. Steve, one of the guys in the class, is the editor that week. Carrie is the page designer. I was the copy editor.

I walked into the Sun's newsroom and was instantly smitten. I loved the sound of the place. It hummed with activity. And, you know, everyone looked like they had a purpose. I can't describe it better than that.

Anyway, when you walk into a newsroom for the first time, you might as well be deaf, dumb and blind. You don't know how to use the computers or equipment. You don't know where anything is. You even have to ask if you dial 9 to get an outside phone line.

Each semester, someone at the Sun would act as an adviser to the student class. Back in the day, long before I got to UF, that class used to take over the newspaper and run it for a week. It was a much different time. Now that I was a student, it was a much smaller affair.

The person who volunteered to help us was your dad.

My first impression: Get a load of the guy with the beak nose and the feathered hair.

My second impression: The guy had serious amounts of kindness behind his eyes. He had a great smile. This was clearly a pain in the ass for him, but you could tell that he had a bottomless well of patience.

During the next few weeks, I'd show up every Thursday night to do the page until I finally cycled through to be the page editor. Through those weeks, Chris helped us get familiar with the mechanics of putting it out, logged us in on the computers, helped us with page layout. You name it.

But better yet, he let us just hang. After the third week, I finally started feeling comfortable. I didn't want to leave. So I didn't.

Every Thursday, I'd just show up whether it was my time or not. I'd help out when I was needed, but most of all, I just wanted to be in the newsroom. Some nights, I'd just go run through the archives. I was infected with it. It was the only place I wanted to be. I could tell that your dad knew what had been lit inside me.

My enthusiasm caught Cunningham's eye. It was in his class that an editor for the Pensacola News Journal saw me hanging around during the day between classes and offered me an internship that I had no other possibility of getting. It was Cunningham who called after I had been hired by the PNJ to ask me to come to Anchorage and write a column.

Chris Carolyn and Mary.JPGTo get me to come up, one of the people he mentioned that he was recruiting from Florida was your dad. "You remember Chris, doncha?" Hugh said. Oh yeah, absolutely, I told him. And with that, I was on to have my Alaska adventure.

One of the first people I saw in the newsroom was your dad. It was surreal to be thousands of miles from home and in a very foreign, very cold place and see someone so familiar and friendly and warm. The next couple of years were the most important of my career. I got to meet and work with your mom, who was one of the assistant city editors on the metro desk, and came to love and admire her as well. I was honored when they invited me to their wedding.

He left us today, and while it crushes me to think about you growing up without him in your life, please know your dad will always have a special place in my heart. He was there at the beginning for me, at the start of the biggest adventure of my life. I look forward to the day that he once again is there standing with that smile, welcoming me to another foreign place.

Please know that you and your mother are in my prayers.


My buddy Craig Lancaster has expressed some lovely sentiments as well at his tremendously entertaining new blog Watch Yer Language.

The Hartford Courant's sports editor, Jeff Otterbein, remembers him warmly.

* His obituary can be found online.

* Many friends and co-workers are offering their recollections of Chris at the TFL fantasy football Web site he and several former colleagues from The Anchorage Times still keep. (Click into the "Trash Talk" section to read them.) Full disclosure: I used to be a team owner in the league. For about as long as it took to drink a cup of coffee...

One fantasy league member, Scott Lacy, put together a lovely video that brought all of us to tears.

As for the recollections left in "The Dumpster," I'm particularly fond of this memory, offered by TFL-er Michael Bourque:

The second year I was in the league (at least I think it was the second). Probably 1994, which would have been the year after we played each other for the championship with the future Loons emerging with a win.

Anyway, I went to Chris and Mary's place in West Hartford for the draft. Chris was working the Friday night before the draft so I actually went to work with him that evening. For a guy from a small daily in Maine, spending a Friday at the Courant Sports Department was like getting called up to the bigs. (Of course, the guys who were actually working thought I was crazy for spending a Friday night hanging with them!). I read the wires and tried not to cause much mayhem though Chris had to come over to tell me that I actually needed to get out of some particular wire story because the slot guy was about three minuets from a deadline and couldn't get in if I was reading...oops.

Anyway, the next morning, we needed to get some stuff for breakfast. So, Mary sent Chris and I off to get the necessary brunch. I will never forget Chris picking up the eggs. Really. It is the most momentous egg-shopping of my life. Now, I know the standard egg shopping requires that you open the top of the box to make sure you have 12, and to make sure you have no serious cracks. But Chris took this examination to new heights. He picked up every single egg and checked it out top and bottom. And it wasn't a like a quick glance. He studied the things.

I was standing there next to him, holding open the door to the supermarket cooler, ready in case he found a bad one to snag a new dozen. The music was playing and the place was quiet. Sort of reminded me of the end of the Blues Brothers when they're riding the elevator, heading for the Cook County assessor's office. I remember saying, wise-ass that I was (am?) "You're gonna look at every one, huh?" "Yeah," he said, sincerely "You gotta make sure they're not broken."

To this day, I'm not sure if this is a metaphor for Chris' attention to detail (copy desk guy that he was) or his desire for quality or, maybe, that he was a cheap bastard who didn't want the supermarket man to screw him out of an egg! Whatever, it's one of those strange memories that today gives me solace.

One more note: I'm starting to get traffic from people who are searching for Chris' name in Google. If you're a friend of his, please be sure to stop in at the TFL site and leave your recollections of him. They're being collected for his daughter, Carolyn. (That project was the genesis of my post here.) We're also making plans to take up a collection for a trust fund for Carolyn. Stay tuned for details.

Posted by Jeff at March 19, 2008 10:53 PM | TrackBack
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