Monitor Newsman Had the Write Stuff
New Year's Day 1946 marked my first day on the Monitor. So it's a good moment, it seems to me, to look back.
I could have so easily gone in another direction on leaving the Army Air Forces after five years of active duty during World War II. Indeed, I was looking forward to rejoining my law partner in my hometown of Urbana, Ill., when he wrote to say he would not be back: He had been tapped to become the first judge advocate general of the new US Air Force.
At that very moment some Monitor doors opened to me and I walked in, taking a post in the circulation department but with a promise from the Monitor's editor, Erwin D. Canham, that the first opening to come along on the editorial side would be mine. I was soon there, sitting alongside seven seasoned editors on the paper's copy desk, ruled over then by a demanding Englishman who, I had to keep reminding myself, was really a very sweet fellow.
Had I been an athlete I would have been said to have gotten off to a "slow start." I always felt confined when in an editing capacity: I was eager to get out and write. I finally got my chance when an opening occurred in the Monitor's Chicago bureau in the early 1950s. I soon became a rambling political reporter with the nation as my canvas. And that's what I've been doing ever since.
Now a few memories.
A funny thing happened: Once when leaning against a guard rail while waiting for a street car in Pittsburgh, a young fellow, standing next to me, stuck his finger in a hole on the top of a steel post that held up the railing. And he simply couldn't get it out. A crowd soon gathered. The police came. They applied oil. It did no good. The young man kept his hat over his hand to try to cover up his embarrassment. Plumbers came. The top of the post was cut off. And the last I saw of the fellow, he was stepping into a police car, holding the top of the post with his finger still in it. And he still was trying to hide it with his hat.
A beginning: My first assignment was to write an in-depth article about the city of Milwaukee. It was to be used in our centerspread. It was a daunting task. But I fortuitously made my first call on the editorial-page chief of the Milwaukee Journal, Paul Ringler. Ringler must have seen how green I was - and doubtless took pity.
Anyway, he got on the phone and lined up interviews for me with the mayor and the top people in the city's political, business, labor, and education world. With that start, I was able to get the job done. Ringler became a lifelong friend. Whenever I came through Milwaukee I would get together with Paul at a German restaurant we particularly liked.
A favorite editor: At the very moment when I was to leave Boston to go out to Chicago, I received an offer from an old hometown friend to practice law with him. I told my national editor, Saville R. Davis, of this opportunity and said something like this: "I really don't know whether I have the stuff to become a truly valuable Monitor newsman. Will you promise to tell me frankly - after a year goes by - whether I should stay in this business or go back to the law?"
He agreed. More than that, he worked with me in an effort to bring the best out of me. He sent long letters each week, examining my stories and telling me how to do better. And after a year? Well, he never said anything. By then I had fallen in love with my job, and I guess Saville felt the Monitor could put up with me a few more years.