Saturday, July 24, 2010

A tribute to an editor I knew only a little, but much admired

When Lisa Warren, the editor of the newspapers for which I write, passed away Friday, I felt surprised.

Not at her passing - she had been battling cancer for years, and recently the news had not been good. She fought valiantly, but she was admitted to hospice some weeks ago, and the writing on the wall was all too clear.

What did surprise me was how affected I felt by it. And that struck me, because I cannot claim to have known Lisa well. She and I had very little interaction. For many years, I worked for the Middletown Journal, while she was the editor of the Hamilton JournalNews. Around the time she became Middletown's editor as well,  in 2007, cancer had struck, and she ended up spending relatively little time where I worked.

So why was I so moved when she died? Part of it, I'm sure, was because I felt sad for my colleagues who did know her well. They had not just lost a boss, or even a mentor - they had lost a friend. And the fact that her death was imminent did not make their  loss any easier. I would imagine it made it even more trying.

And yet the few interactions I had with her were memorable. I can remember only two meetings I had with her. But they stand out for very different reasons.

A couple of years ago, when I was covering one of the small towns around Middletown, I was trying to report on a crime. The police were not being very forthcoming about it, and I kept after them, with call after call, trying to get SOME useful information from them, to little avail.

So when Lisa called me into her office, I was nervous. I always am at these sorts of meetings, but since I didn't know Lisa well, I wasn't sure what was in store.

She told me she had heard from the police and the city manager that I was being "unpleasantly aggressive."

She must have seen the expression on my face, because she gave me kind of a knowing look. Anyone who knows me at at all knows that the idea of me being "unpleasantly aggressive" is laughable. Sure, I can be persistent. But unpleasant? Unpleasantly AGGRESSIVE? Ridiculous.

She said she told them,  "That doesn't sound like the Eric I know." And I liked the way she phrased that. She and I barely knew each other, but she still had a good understanding of me. She said she would never have any problem with me being aggressive in my reporting, but since the perception was out there, I should meet with the officials and smooth over the ruffled feathers.

She was right, of course. I had the meeting and everything turned out fine. And how she dealt with the situation always stayed with me - she was eminently reasonable and fair.

The only other meeting I had with her was of much smaller consequence, but it still had a marked impact on me. She asked me to cover the Talawanda school district, in and around Oxford. I thought that was very strange, because I worked in Hamilton, and that was way out of my way. Still, I did it, and that decision was what made me get a GPS. I didn't want to follow Mapquest directions in the dark on those winding country roads and end up in a ditch somewhere.

And my use of a GPS has led to a lot of laughs for me. I call my GPS Glinda - the Navigator of the South, the East, the West AND the North. Sometimes I rely on her so heavily that one of my friends cracked "You use her to get HOME, don't you?"

That may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it DID all stem from that meeting with Lisa!

But she did impact me in larger ways, partly because of what I didn't get to experience with her. When I heard her say that my profile of a local resident impacted by the economy was a model of what to follow, that was golden to me, because I knew how high her standards were. I wish I had more moments like that.

I also felt a sense of loss because I knew how hard she fought her illness. She went through chemo after chemo, some of which were experimental or radical. She hung tough longer than many people would have, I'm sure.

Not too long before the end, she gave a pretty dramatic demonstration of her battle that really put things in perspecitve. She said through it all, she found three kinds of trouble, and lowering her hand, she put it like this:



your problem.

If we all faced our battles like Lisa faced hers, we would have a cure for cancer by now. That's why I don't like to read that Lisa "lost her battle with cancer." It's a pretty common phrase in obituary stories, and I suppose it is true, in a sense. But death meets us all in the end, no matter who we are. In NO way was Kira Lisa Warren a loser. And I knew her just well enough to be absolutely certain of that. 

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