It's never easy closing one of life's chapters

January 07, 2001|By Frank Lynch

SAYING GOODBYE to friends -- especially ones you have been saying hello to for more than 30 years -- is not easy.

Creaking bones, failing eyes and computers have relegated me to the bench. I am no longer able to perform at the level I always set for myself. The quality of my game has diminished.

Thankfully, both to myself and to this newspaper, I recognize that it's best that I make way for the youngsters armed with computers. The position of makeup editor has changed drastically. Pagination, the process of building pages electronically, is now the key word. Making up pages manually in the composing room is nearly a thing of the past. So last month I decided it was time to put away my line gauge and layout sheets. The game has changed, but change is good. It's just not for me.

A privilege

For better than three decades, it has been a privilege to have worked with many talented people at three Baltimore papers. Since 1968, I have shared quality time with excellent writers, editors, artists, photographers and printers.

Beginning as a sports department stringer for the old News American, I quickly realized that a newspaper career was to my liking. The urgency of the newsroom, the continuous clacking of the Teletype, the constant ringing of telephones, the mechanical symphony of Linotype machines and the smell of printers' ink captured my senses. Never once have I ever felt like I was going to a job. It truly has been a labor of love.

My first assignment was a Saturday afternoon lacrosse game between Navy and the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club at the latter's Norris Field facility off Falls Road. An overflow crowd saw the nation's top club team defeat the rugged but less talented midshipmen.

To my surprise, the story appeared on the front of the Sunday sports section. I was further surprised when sports editor John Steadman called to tell me how pleased he was with my effort. His only suggestion came at the end of our conversation, when he instructed me to apply my byline on all succeeding assignments.

Two years later, I became a permanent member of the News American sports staff, working with Neal Eskridge, N.P. "Swami" Clark, George Taylor and Art Janney. These were guys I read growing up. Now I was going to hone my craft with their help.

Writing was fun. It afforded an opportunity to meet wonderful people and cover exciting events. But what really caught my interest was editing copy, writing headlines, laying out pages and working in the composing room with some outstanding typographical tradesmen. I had found my niche.

I had no delusions of stardom. I preferred producing attractive, readable pages. I saw myself, to use a football analogy, as an offensive lineman making the stars of the staff look good.

From 1973 until 1979, I was thrilled watching our undermanned staff continually match and often beat the larger, talented staffs of both The Sun and the Evening Sun. It was a terrific rivalry, one that is missing from today's market. But in 1979, the News American underwent drastic changes in the newsroom that, in my opinion, led to the paper's demise. In 1986, it finally imploded.

Bill Tanton, sports editor of the Evening Sun, offered me a similar position on his staff in 1979. Respected rivals like Larry Harris, Phil Jackman, Jim Miller and Mike Klingaman became my teammates. And across the newsroom sat the legendary Sun staff of Bob Maisel, Seymour Smith, Cameron Snyder, Lou Hatter and Alan Goldstein.

Roaming the halls

While the newsroom at the News American -- smoke-filled and crusty -- resembled a scene from the Broadway play "Front Page," my new surroundings reminded me of an insurance company. Even the wire room, with its banks of Teletype machines and manned by Ray Baer, was enclosed in glass to block the clattering noise.

After the death of the News American, our staff recognized that it would just be a matter of time before the Evening Sun rung down its curtain. In the early 1990s, high-level decision-makers decided to combine the staffs of both papers, except for a dozen who would continue to produce the evening paper. This group, of which I was a proud member, adopted the appropriate title of "The Lost Patrol." This band of merry men roamed the halls at 501 N. Calvert St. until September 1995, when the paper's banner headline screamed "Goodnight, Hon" to all of Baltimore.

If I were to list the names of all those who have been most helpful to me over the years, it would number in the hundreds and would recall a bowling column entitled "Pinformation." The author was often accused of being paid by the name. Also, none of the people unmentioned here would have paid me enough to get in print.

I will miss the daily contact of those I leave behind, especially my mentor, John Steadman, who until his recent death produced entertaining columns about the Baltimore sports scene. Goodbye, dear friend. Thank you for the gift you gave me so very long ago -- the opportunity to work with class people in a class business.

Frank Lynch retired from The Sun Friday to take on projects that he never had time for during his 32 years in journalism.

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