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It’s not really goodbye

Last week Robin Washington made his departure from the Duluth News Tribune, and as he was also the managing editor of several community papers throughout the region, from the Lake County News Chronicle, as well. I heard the sad news Thursday afternoon.

Like a balloon that had been let go into the wide blue sky, I felt suddenly untethered and a little scared. Almost every day for over 18 months I have relied on Robin’s wealth of experience, creativity, instincts and humor to guide my decision-making as a reporter and editor.

When he first approached me about becoming editor of the News-Chronicle, I met with him and tried to disabuse him of the notion. I had no experience in the field. When I left his office, however, I was fairly certain that protest was futile. He had made up his mind. In his version of the story I enthusiastically asked: “When do I start?” But I remember it differently.

“Well,” I thought as I walked to my car, “he’s either got a lot of confidence in my ability, or in his own.” Maybe it was some of each, but I will always be grateful for whichever it was. Rarely in life are we afforded the opportunity to learn at the elbow of one of the best. I’m still not sure how or why the stars aligned the way they did, but I’ve often said that I feel like I won the lottery.

Over the months that followed, he spent countless hours answering my questions and patiently (patiently!) walking me beyond the limits of my knowledge and experience to new understanding. Trust me, it was no small task. There was whining, fits of temper and tears – all mine, of course. If he ever held his head in his hands and wondered what he’d been thinking when he hired me, I never knew it. As a result, because he seemed to think I could start a journalism career in my 50s, I believed it, too. Evidence of his ability to teach and shape reporters lies is in the numerous awards newspapers have earned under his supervision.

Many of you know that Robin was once the editor of the Lake County News-Chronicle back in the late 80s. His tenure was brief because he was awarded a prestigious fellowship at WGBH in Boston not long after his hire, but that was just small part of a career that has spanned decades and includes award winning documentaries, work in print, and on television and radio. Ten years ago he found his way back to the region and the Duluth News-Tribune. Four years ago, as its executive editor, he also took on oversight (yet again) of the News-Chronicle. I got the impression that it represented something more than a coincidence to him. The North Shore, its people and this paper hold a place in his heart.

He’s got a daunting list of new ideas for projects and I know I’m not the only one who’d stand in line to read his autobiography, but wherever new paths lead, I know he’ll be back. He’s already learned that all roads lead to the Lake County.