Well, State Desk Editor Pat Englehart, the man with the ever-present DeNobil cigar, had a passion for getting the news, and getting it right, that I didn’t see anywhere else in my career to such an extent. Oh, I worked with a lot of good newsmen, and John S. Knight was the most remarkable owner to allow me into his tent. But the fire in Pat was unstoppable. If a siren went off in a vehicle passing the BJ building, Pat grabbed the phone to find out what was up. And he pushed and even threatened his reporters to do the same. It was easier to placate Pat rather than to face him if you handed in a “horseshit” story.
That trickled down to everyone on the State Desk, from Pat’s assistant State Desk editors like Harry Liggett and myself, to the reporters in Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit and Wayne counties. Pat had the entire staff as persistent in pursuing information as chipmunks were in making Swiss cheese of my former Cuyahoga Falls lawn that surrounded The Pool That Channels Built. There was a spine-tingling pride in putting together a story that Pat liked.
It was this same incessant pursuit of journalistic quality that made Pat the perfect point man for the Beacon Journal’s coverage of the 1970 Kent State shootings by James Rhodes’ National Guard. Managing Editor Bob Giles had Pat leave the State Desk to Harry and the others while the Englehart energy focused on the KSU tragedy.
The boxes of evidence piled up, with Pat cracking the whip and assigning reporters to check this angle and that angle. There should have been a special place on the BJ’s Pulitzer for Pat’s name because it was his drive that made it inevitable.
And you had to prove your stance to Pat every day. The verbal fire was fast and furious. But both sides had the same goal: The best dadgum stories we could ferret and write. And there was no resentment over the journey. Once the job was done, we would go across the street to the Printers Club and have a beer together and laugh about it all.
It was fun. I ran to work every day. It felt that special.
There was Frances B. Murphey – her retort was “Go to Hell!” in a way that made you feel appreciated – with her nearby clutter. But if Fran wanted something, she could reach into the seemingly disorganized pile and pull out the one piece of paper that she sought.
When I was put in charge of handling one of the many newsroom furniture and wall-moving reorganizations, Managing Editor Scott Bosley, a fellow West Virginian and WVU School of Journalism graduate who retired to Kalamazoo, Michigan, told me to “find a wall” away from the third-floor elevator so that visitors wouldn’t see what looked like carnage surrounding Fran.
I did, arranging Fran’s desk so that it was ensconced within three walls. Hey, I had to give her a place to get in and out; otherwise, there would have been four walls and a private dumbwaiter to get her in and out of her estate.
People like Bill Hershey and Jim Ricci, who went on to larger and bright spotlights in the journalism world, still marvel and revel at the electricity and magic that Pat created.
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.
But they did, in 1974. That was the day the journalism fireworks died at the BJ.
The wake for the State Desk was EIGHT hours of partying at Sanginiti’s. We laughed forever and a day.
With apologies to Gene Raskin, the Limeliters and Mary Hopkin.
The excuse was to create a Super Desk. But I suspect the real reason was to break up the empire that Pat had built. He evoked such loyalty from his staff that I think others in management were threatened by that.
Pat was given a small office that is the JSK Room today, isolated from the newsroom and anyone who didn’t want to deal with his firebrand journalism.
Harry got shunted to Makeup Man.
I was assigned to the Copy Desk, got a lot of late-night shifts that no one else wanted and was called into Managing Editor Bob Giles’ office with Al Fitzpatrick as a witness while Giles suggested it might be better if I found employment elsewhere (my response was to join the Guild, since management had broken the covenant I made with Ben Maidenburg, and be a union thorn in management’s side by doing exhaustive research of mostly retirement issues when contracts talks loomed; and, today, being the only Guild retiree who risked his own money to file a lawsuit that BJ management settled that restored retirement-day benefits to 50 retired printers, editors and reporters) for, in my case, a savings of about $4,000 a year in my out-of-pocket healthcare costs, including $2 co-pay for each prescription.
The breakup was complete.
And that magic never happened again.
Nothing seemed the way it used to be – again, from “Those Were the Days” song.
Pat died in 1995 in Florida to a cancer that even his Mogadore fighting spirit couldn’t defeat. His wife, Marge, later moved to the Elks National Home retirement complex in Bedford, Virginia. She’s doing fine, last time I talked to her.
Fran, who began her newspaper career by tagging along with her mother, Marie Thompson Murphey, as a child, died in 1998. There’s a rest area in I-77 in Bath Township just south of I-271 with her name on it, which is fitting considering her penchant for outhouses.
My daughter, LaQuita, who does stained-glass work, once gave Fran a stained-glass outhouse which Fran kept on her desk for weeks, then submerged it into the Boston Heights mess of her Murpheydale house.
Harry and I were retired for 18 or more years, and dabbled in blogs, such as this one, and our high school blogs, when Harry passed away Jan. 24, 2014. The great love of Harry's life was Helen Smolak Liggett, daughter of Czech immigrants. She passed away June 26, 2010. The gruff Harry we all knew at the BJ evaporated when he was around Helen.
I visited Harry for the last time during one of his assisted living stays. In the midst of a conversation with me, he yelled out “Mae! Mae! Come and get me!” She did.
I’ve traveled to 52 countries, 43 states and been on 11 cruises with Paula Stone Tucker, who as a reporter experienced the State Desk chaos, euphoria and creativity in 1971 and 1972.
Those were the days, my friend. Too bad they came to an end.
RIP, Pat, Fran & the state desk . . .