Years ago, one of our editors stumbled upon a notice in an old, yellowed newspaper that was in response to a mother whose son wanted to get into newspapering. The editor responded thusly: “If he can say 'no' without making people mad, and 'yes' without making himself mad; if he can write in a way to make people laugh when he feels like cussin’, or make them cry when he feels like laughing; if he can make a two-column story of a four-line paragraph, and a four-line paragraph of a two-column story; if he can make a human-interest story out of next Sunday's church notices; if he can write an obituary with one hand and a description of the bride’s costume with the other, while three or four people are talking to him at the same time; if he can turn down Mrs. Smith’s poem on 'Springtime Reveries' and turn up a full-page ad from Mr. Smith the same week; if he can usher to the pearly gates the meanest man in town in a way to please the kin of the deceased and not provoke the ridicule of his enemies; if he can convince the widow Jones that when the paper said Jones had 'gone to his last roasting place' it was merely a typographical error, and get a renewal of her subscription before she leaves the office; if he can welcome the man with a grouch and send him away with a grin; if he has a nose for news, an eye for business, an open ear, a closed mouth, an itch for writing and an 18-hour-a-day work complex, he might, with long training, make a country editor — and possibly a living.”
If around today, that wise writer could have been describing M. Dick Drysdale, the longtime former owner and editor of The Herald of Randolph. “Dickey” also knows as "M.D." died last week.
It is not just the 16 towns served by the prominent Vermont weekly grieving the loss. The state lost a journalist, who, through 40 years of getting his hands inky amid small-town spoils, only seemed to make friends and touch lives.
Tim Calabro, the paper's current editor and Drysdale's hand-picked successor, wrote a telling editorial that appears in this week's edition.
“He told a people’s story like only he could. He celebrated the best of what we are and decried our foibles, urging us to be better, kinder, and to not take ourselves too seriously,” Calabro wrote. “It is difficult to give a complete rendering of Dickey’s life. To an intern-turned-photographer-turned-editor he was always the newspaperman and mentor, but his world expanded far beyond the newsroom.”
Calabro went on to say, “One would be hard pressed to describe M.D. without the word 'mischievous' — he was ever the practical joker. On a routine day, he would tromp loudly and quickly down the office stairs, trying to mimic the sound of a person tumbling down the steps and startle everyone below. … He was also known to make the occasional prank call. A light would spark in his eye, and he’d scurry back to his office, put on a funny voice and call in to the front desk, trying to catch whoever was filling in off guard with bizarre complaints.”
Dickey was a character. You knew it as soon as you met him, But you could not script a better newspaperman.
In a front-page tribute to Drysdale in this week's edition, Mike Donoghue, the Vermont Press Association’s long-time executive director, said, “I think what struck me most was that he was a man for all seasons. He was the quintessential editor-publisher-owner of a paper — he basically did it all. … He could write news, he could write features, he could cover the arts. … He was obviously a talented editorial writer. Donoghue said readers came to depend on Drysdale and The Herald to deliver the news of what is going on in their communities. He gave them a quality “newspaper of record,” Donoghue was quoted as saying.
That is high praise. Perhaps the highest. Public trust is the gold standard in the Fourth Estate.
Calabro said Drydale's philosophy on journalism was simple: “Bad things happen in a community and people deserve to know about it; good things happen in a community and people deserve to celebrate it.”
But he was more than that. Drysdale knew the newspaper was the very center of community building. And he spent his career fostering that idea with professionalism and grace. He encouraged (and covered) differences, and through his determination to serve readers, he always had an eye on the rounded hills that flanked the Herald's success and future.
“He was a Harvard guy, but when it came to newspapering, he could spot a talent regardless of their on-paper qualifications. He took in interns, he molded writers,” Calabro wrote in his editorial this week.
Don't stop that press. Let that black ink flow. Let Dickey's legacy go on in the form of ink on our fingertips. And let those stubborn smudges remind us that a life of hard work, chronicling a community, not only builds news and memories, it reveals, on the whole, just who we are.