Anemic encomium

It’s wonderful to be reminded of someone you haven’t thought about in years, unless that reminder comes via some terrible news.

The old Portland Press Herald building

This thing’s a hotel now, I think. I don’t know. The paper’s no longer there but, then again, neither am I.

Bill Nemitz gave me my first daily newspaper job back in the early 1990s. I think he’d only been sports editor of the Portland Press Herald for a couple months at that point, perhaps explaining that rare lapse in judgment.

My job title was sports assistant. My duties at that time mainly consisted of quickly¬†and more-or-less accurately writing up two- to three-paragraph summaries of high school and small college sports contests based on phone calls from the winning coaches. Basketball season was when the calls came in rapid fire, and the challenge was trying to write up each of them a bit differently, as they’d be stacked on the sports pages next to the “agate,” or scores, standings, transactions and other athletics arcana. I remember often trying and failing to get “thwarted” past the raptor-like and crusty copy editor Paul “The Commissioner” Abramowitz on the “rim,” and trying to keep pace with the demands of the witty and irascible “slot man,” Jeff “Snake” Hannon, who constantly joshed with copy editors Hal Madsen and Bob “Blackie” Smythe, a stoic and solid catcher in an over-40 hardball league.

Today I’m remembering not just the quiet and enigmatic Nemitz, who I believe soon left the sports department and became the paper’s chief editorial columnist, but the other impressive characters in the Press Herald building.

Editorial Page Editor George Neavoll personified grace and rectitude, as well as helpfulness. Having struggled to get my resume and clips from weeklies past the personnel office, I approached him for advice. He responded by giving me Nemitz’s number and alerting me that the sports department was hiring.

The talented and generous self-professed former party girl Martha Englert (who I believe is an Episcopalian priest or UCC minister now) paved the way for my first daily reporting job, at the Dover, N.H.-based Foster’s Daily Democrat, where she had been a star and about which she told me the truth: It will be an extremely tough job for no money, but in a year you’ll have more than enough clips to go somewhere else.

The elegant and kind Tess Nacelewicz, who lavished quiet words of encouragement and provided an uncommon example of serenity in the newsroom.

Alan Clandenning, a scrappy and game reporter straight out of central casting, who showed me the way the work should be done.

Metro Editor Dave McNabb, who took me on as a news assistant when the regular guy, the universally beloved Ed Perrotta, was recovering from a heart attack. “Cut the shit” was a typical example of his coaching and writing advice to me. My favorite, though, was City Editor Joe Michaud, one of the true gentlemen of the newspaper business, or any business, whose only prejudice was against inserting “What a long, strange trip it’s been” into any story about the Grateful Dead. He’d be known as a “good clubhouse man” if newspapers were sports teams.

I could point to other Press Herald editors, as well as reporters whose stories I contributed to (occasionally with an “endline”) and who contributed to my developing love for and competence in the craft of journalism, but I’ve already larded this post with sluggish extranaeity.

My year at the Portland Press Herald was insignificant to the organization, but it was crucial to me. The place provided numerous examples of journalistic professionalism and excellence in personal comportment that I have too often failed to attain, but which I continue to cherish. And Bill Nemitz was the exemplar of what a professional journalist and great man could be.

Now the cancer I never knew he had has come back with a vengeance. I’ll be praying for him every day. I hope you can spare one, too.

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