WASHINGTON – In a previous newspaper life, I shared an office in a room for “special” reporters, editors and columnists.
We were “special” because we had beats that didn’t exactly fit into the standard newsroom lineup of local, state or national news — nor did we need to be near the foreign, financial or society (in those days) desks or editors.
We were blithe spirits.
As such, we had our own space. We were even on a different floor (the second) to emphasize our, uh, difference from the legitimate newsroom, which was on the fifth floor.
Our exile was a happy one. If the intent was to punish or diminish us for our off-the-wall areas of expertise … it failed. We were closer to the bathrooms and the snack bar than our more traditional colleagues.
Our merry band (all men, now that I think about it) included: The outdoor editor, who mostly never went outside, even for lunch; a federal expert (me); a humor columnist who was anything but funny; a boating/fishing columnist; and a couple of other specialists.
Oh, and the garden editor.
The garden editor seemed ancient to me at the time (he was probably 55). But I soon learned he was very active. Very. He was also a very knowledgeable fellow, jolly and funnier than the humor columnist, and more robust than the outdoors’ columnist who always smelled of Vicks VapoRub. He knew all about dawn redwoods, tomatoes, weevils, flowers and acid soil.
He happily answered phone calls and letters from people with garden problems. He also made house calls … if the caller was a woman, which most were.
When a woman reader called, he never inquired about age or looks. He loved helping women, and would often dash off after getting their addresses to give personal attention to their garden plight.
His trowel was ever at the ready. If the woman called with a complaint about slugs around her tomatoes or ants on her roses, he was there. If her husband’s tuber was drooping, our garden guy was ready with a remedy.
He was inspiring.
I found out later that only two of us (me and the humor columnist) were full-time and paid as full-time employees — if you could call what they paid us a salary. The others — the outdoor, sailboat and garden guys — were part-timers, which explained why they were only in the office a couple of days a week, except for the outdoors’ guy who was always indoors.
I think he was allergic to the sun. And air.
After I found out that only two of us were drawing a (almost) living wage, I felt bad for a while, especially since they were at least twice my age with families to support.
But as I got older and wiser, it dawned on me that the part-timers were doing what they loved. That they would probably have worked for nothing. Especially the garden editor.
He gave a new meaning to the term, “higher calling.” He truly gave it all he had, and then some.
Tom, I salute you.
Mike has spent the majority of his life inside the Beltway and has an interesting and humorous perspective that he will share every Wednesday. Mike has spent his career covering the federal government for the Washington Post and now for Federal News Radio.