Friday, May 29, 2009

Dick Pomeroy: Eulogy for an old-style newsman

By Jim Heffernan

Scoop Pomeroy: Larger Than Life Even in Death...

I’m sick at heart that I’m unable to attend the funeral of my friend and former colleague Dick Pomeroy on Saturday (May 30) in Superior. Out-of-town obligations will prevent me from paying my respects to his family. Pomeroy, 86, died May 27.

So I will pay my respects this way, in hopes that family members – whom I don’t know personally – will somehow see what I am posting on my blog.

I met Dick when I began working at the Duluth News Tribune in 1963. I was an inexperienced young reporter and every so often this big, blustery older guy would show up in the newsroom, loudly greeting fellow long-time staffers and cheerfully engaging anyone he met. That included me.

In those days, the newspaper maintained a bureau in Superior at 1419 Ogden Avenue, staffed by a woman who handled circulation, another woman who developed “society” news, and Pomeroy who did everything else. He covered everything in Superior – city government, school board, courts, university, breaking news like fires and murders and traffic fatalities. If it happened in Superior, Pomeroy handled it, and in the meantime he’d drum up feature stories.

With a full head of blond hair, something over six feet tall, weight that varied between the lower and upper 200s, Pomeroy was an imposing figure, larger than life. Cheerful and good-natured, he was a boon companion to join out on the town, often in a quest to paint it red.

The first summer I worked as a reporter, I was sent to the Superior bureau to fill in for him when he went on vacation. That was when I really got to know him. Before he left he took me around to meet all of his news sources – the mayor, county officials, school officials, judges, police chief, and some sources at the Elk’s Club where work and a couple of beers went hand-in-hand on an average afternoon.

Fun beat. Dick took off on vacation, and I “manned” the Superior office for three weeks, listening for sirens and trying to cover Superior government goings-on.

As an aside, but interestingly in these times when news can make it around the world instantly, at the Superior bureau then you would type up your stories, put them in an envelope in the evening and place them on a city bus (hand the packet to the driver, bribing him with a copy of the Duluth Herald). Then you’d run back to the bureau, phone the newsroom in Duluth with the number of the bus, and a copyboy would be sent down to Superior Street to meet the bus and pick up your packet of dispatches.

Everybody in Superior called Pomeroy “Scoop,” a tribute to his success in “scooping” the Superior Evening Telegram, which, to be fair, had its own share of scoops. The Duluth and Superior papers competed then.

I could go on and on with memories of Dick, but two stories we worked on together stand out. One was in the 1960s when one of the News Tribune’s own newsboys (formally known as carrier salesmen), about 12, disappeared while delivering the Sunday edition – his wagon full of undelivered newspapers found unattended on his route. Later, the child’s murdered body was found in the grassy field near where Superior Senior High School was later built. I learned of the murder when I made the daily routine checks of area law enforcement agencies, working the Duluth newsroom alone on a Sunday.

There was only one thing to do: Call Pomeroy at home on his day off. Nothing stirred Pomeroy like a compelling story in Superior, and he went right to work on it, gathering every scrap of news he could and feeding it to me on the phone, after which I put the story together. The case was never solved.

My other memorable collaboration with Pomeroy also occurred in the late ‘60s when an AP dispatch from Germany identified a man charged with treason – betraying military secrets to the Soviets – as being a native of Superior. I was sent to Superior to help Pomeroy (not that he ever needed any help) track down this guy’s association with Superior and we went everywhere to try to find a trace of his past. Finally, at the library, we found a picture in an old high school yearbook and somehow, I don’t remember how, we tracked down the alleged traitor’s mother, who had a different last name from her son.

We found her scrubbing the floor after business hours in a café on Tower Avenue, an older woman who clearly had led a hard life. We got in a back door and Pomeroy broke the news to her that her son had been charged with treason in Germany. The woman was overcome with disbelief and then grief, as Pomeroy tried to console her while at the same time trying to get her to talk on the record.

But enough. I haven’t had much contact with Dick in recent years, getting occasional reports from mutual friends on his health problems associated with aging. He might be the last of the World War II vets who made up much of the News Tribune staff when I started.

To me, he represents the end of an era of newspapering (we didn’t fuss much with calling ourselves journalists), his death coming at a time when the era of newspapers themselves may be ending. There’s some irony there.


Firebottle3 said...

What a wonderful tribute to a fellow reporter and friend. I read many of his "scoops" over the years. I wonder why it is they "don't make 'em like Scoops anymore?"

Jim Heffernan said...

Yup, Pomeroy was a colorful guy and a good friend. That world has changed so much, even in the last four years since I retired and print newspapers seem to be going down hill. Nothing's forever I guess. Fun while it lasted, though. Always enjoy hearing from you.