Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Marilou Johanek

A reluctant farewell to an editor, a mentor, a friend

TOM Walton will not have trouble smiling today. The Blade Editor and Vice President is retiring. This is his last day. After 42 years of hard labor as the consummate newspaperman, he's earned a break. Good for him. We celebrate his uncommon achievements, long distinguished career, and job well done for so many years. This is Tom's triumphant moment and we, his proud compatriots, are happy for him.

Really. I mean it. OK, we'd rather he'd stay. Please? Just for a couple, three, four more years or so. Then maybe we'd be ready for his retirement. But right now, to be frank, his work family can't deal with it. For us, his leaving is a huge loss. I'd say it's akin to what any tightly knit family experiences when an integral member decides to up and leave. Even when it's a good thing, change is never easy.

Most of us spend a big chunk of our lives on the job, usually alongside the same people day in and day out. If you're extremely lucky, those people become sort of a family away from home. And over the years, a few may become close friends. And why not? You can learn a lot about a person while swapping endless stories, gripes, and bad jokes. Ever hear the one about two dogs?

Even if you're not on a first-name basis with your colleagues' real families, no doubt you've seen the pictures. You've watched their kids grow up and heard about the transitions to college, weddings, and babies. With co-workers who are like family, you feel safe sharing personal struggles, talking about an ailing spouse, choking up over the death of a parent. You depend on each other for advice in tough situations. Or a shoulder to lean on when that's all you need.




In such a working environment, finding the motivation to surpass expectations is never an issue. Employees want to give as good as they get in a workplace where respect is mutual and collegial support strong. Perhaps that kind of business atmosphere where employees and management hold each other in high regard and are driven as a group to excel is more the exception than the rule today. Maybe that's why those of us who call Tom Walton boss dread what he can't wait to begin.

We know he is one of those rare management types who has an equal amount of talent and heart. He led his sometimes unruly office family of writers and editors with an always fair, occasionally firm, and frequently funny approach.

Thirteen years ago when I first began writing this column, Tom tempered my novel excitement. We'll take it one column at a time, he said. No promises. And no hard feelings if it doesn't work out.

I'm still making him rue the day. Four years and lots of lunches later he took another chance on me as a member of his staff on the editorial pages. I was the ultimate outsider with 20-plus years in broadcasting, which also made me the ultimate imposter to those who hold the print media in far higher journalistic esteem than the electronic media. So I needed someone in the inner print sanctum I could count on to be honest, to be a sounding board, to be a mentor, a friend.

Tom threw me a lifeline. He never held TV against me even though my broadcaster's liberties with careless commas made him crazy. He surrounded me with creative writers with a superb grasp of their craft. They were and are an inspiration to emulate.

When I was just out of college I was fortunate to train under CBS broadcast veterans who were masters at weaving words with audio and pictures. They were extraordinary teachers who patiently guided a nervous rookie clacking out reams of yellow copy on a typewriter next to noisy wire machines. Many years and broadcasting markets later, the industry moved in a direction that lost its appeal for me and I left. Never did I expect to be as challenged as I once was so long ago by seasoned pros. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I thought.

Thank God I was wrong. For some particular reason - he said I wore him down - the Editor of The Blade gave me an opening to prove myself all over again as a student under a teacher who had mastered the discipline of writing and editing and shaping a daily newspaper. Nobody can touch Tom Walton's almost effortless flare for the right words, from bitingly critical editorials to comedic asides and movingly poignant essays. And his speed at crafting excellence is legendary. It never ceases to amaze younger writers taking twice as long to complete assignments.

The man also has the stoicism of a saint - a prerequisite for someone who presides over editorial pages - and a dry sense of humor that kicks in when patience wears thin. He handles frequent interruptions with admirable self-control as he fine-tunes copy to make it better. To learn from someone with that caliber of skill and commitment and character was an honor.

We all wish Tom Walton much happiness ahead, but you'll pardon us for smiling through our tears as we bid a reluctant farewell to the best boss, teacher, and friend one could ever hope for.

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