Bill passed through my life nearly ten-plus years ago, but he had a tremendous impact on my career as a journalist and editor. At the time, I was an intern at SF Weekly – my first “job” in journalism. During those several months, Bill never slung his arm over my shoulders or he never whispered words of wisdom into my ear. Instead, his encouragement was something much more sincere and much more real: He was simply kind and encouraging to us interns – which, in a work environment that was often dismissive and abusive of interns, ultimately convinced me not to quit writing and give up on weekly papers for a kinder, gentler profession.
Six years ago, I helped launch a weekly paper in Portland, Oregon. It was a long path from my internship at SF Weekly to becoming the managing editor at the Portland Mercury – and along the way there were several standouts who encouraged me to keep with the business of writing. Among those, Bill was my first.
I had never thanked Bill for his kindness – and, in fact, we had not even spoken since I left SF Weekly back in 1992. But a year ago, I decided to write him a brief note (below). I did not expect a response from Bill. I simply wanted him to know that he had been a positive and important force on my career.
A few weeks ago, though, I did receive an email from Bill’s parents telling me that they had found the letter that I had written to Bill and that he had passed a few weeks earlier. I am truly sorry for his family and friends, and cannot imagine the loss that each of you must feel. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to write Bill and that he received my thank you.
I only knew a sliver of Bill and only for a very brief time. But that glimpse was remarkable. Below is a copy of the letter which I sent Bill.
21 February 2005
This is an out-of-the-blue letter, and a long overdue thank you. Ten-plus years ago, I was an intern at SF Weekly and you were a copy editor there. As well, you shepherded us interns.
More recently, I have become the managing editor for the Portland Mercury, a popular weekly in Oregon. We’re a spin-off from Seattle’s The Stranger (and, ultimately, The Onion.) I helped launch the paper five years ago.
To the point: There really is no point to this letter except to say “thank you.” Without any real prompt, your name popped into my head last week. Perhaps it was because I was dealing with a stubborn intern, or perhaps I was dealing all hard-ass with a cranky reporter and started to realize (against all promises to myself) that I was acting like Vince Beilski (the former news editor at SF Weekly).
During my several months at SF Weekly, you were incredible. I don’t know whether you even remember, but you set up weekly seminars and lectures for us interns. Most of the time, few people attended, but you kept at it. It perhaps wasn’t anything big to you, but those after-work mini-lectures helped keep me involved with the paper and, ultimately, helped me suffer through my internship (and get something worthwhile out of it, besides an ego bruised by Vince). Also, if I remembering clearly, you were one of the few editors who didn’t act too-cool-for-school towards us interns.
Like I said, your name and my experiences at SF Weekly were just something that popped into my head. They were a good reminder that small things that I do now as an editor and mentor can have a big impact on impressionable young things.
Anyway, this letter doesn’t need any response. I simply wanted to drop a few recent issues of our paper in the mail to you and, more important, to thank you.
I hope that all’s well.