A View From Atop Broad Shoulders

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Shadows.

And shoulders.

We stand always in shadows — but also atop shoulders.

So suddenly I’m editor, coming out of Tom’s shadow — but standing also on his shoulders. What a marvelous, scary thing — to have responsibility now for the best non-daily newspaper in Arizona. Such potential to bless this great-hearted town and its quirky, bright, kind readers — and such a challenging time in the profession to which Tom — and I — have given our lives.

photo

Pete Aleshire

I did not expect to find such treasures when I stumbled into Payson almost five years ago, a bit worse for wear.

Tom took me in — offered me a new home.

Remarkable fellow, Tom Brossart.

He’s spent the past 37 years putting out newspapers. He became an editor and publisher through the back door — the darkroom door, in fact. Mostly, editors come up through the reporter ranks. Tom’s first love was photography. He spent a whole lifetime chasing photos — while treating everyone within his sphere with instinctive respect and compassion.

He worked everywhere — Sidney, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Kentucky, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, Sedona and finally here. He very nearly won a Pulitzer for community journalism for a series of photos and stories on the lives of handicapped children in a rural farming community. The papers he edited over the years accumulated more than 250 major awards. That includes the Payson Roundup, named the best non-daily paper in the state every year he ran it.

Now, anyone with a lick of sense knows you shouldn’t hire someone whose resume doesn’t fit the position. No way Tom should have hired me. I’d spent all my life working for big city dailies, taught at the university then edited Arizona Highways. But here I was begging for a reporter job on a semi-weekly newspaper, well off the beaten track.

But he hired me. He just trusted his instincts and trusted me.

Turns out, he was the best boss I ever had: Gentle, funny, kind, decent, respectful. He had high standards, absolute integrity and a fierce loyalty to his readers and his profession. He also had a soft spot for pretty much everyone who worked for him. He let people do their jobs, without the ego need to dominate that drives way too many people to become bosses.

So I learned a lot from Tom — about serving a community, about taking photographs, about being a human being. And now I’m sitting in his office, contemplating the view from my spot standing on his shoulders.

That mean’s it’s my turn to figure out how to offer our beloved readers what they want — and the community what it needs.

Fortunately, that community brims with great stories — and great people. Just look in this week’s editions. We did a story about a project to clean up a forest dumpsite and 30 cheerful people showed up to donate half a day to picking up other people’s junk. Meanwhile, teams of bowlers turned out to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters and chefs donated their efforts to a library fund-raising effort. Tomorrow, more volunteers will hike three miles to restore the neglected grave of an iconoclastic pioneer.

Now, throw in the Mogollon Monster, the Mogollon Health Alliance, the effort to build a university, the Blue Ridge pipeline, the community food drive — and on and on and on.

How did I get so lucky as to help put out a newspaper in such a town?

I haven’t even mentioned all the people who work here, each quietly dedicated to creating the best paper in the state. I could write a book on that topic alone.

How did I get so lucky as to help put out a newspaper with such a group?

Life’s funny — so unexpected. Sometimes, its greatest blessings come disguised as failure and loss.

I stood once in shadows, the weight of the world on my shoulders. But now I see that the shadows merely filled the hollows and made the ridgeline glow.

So thank you, Tom.

I hope you won’t go far.

I may need a shoulder to lean on.

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