Tuesday, April 9, 2013

THE MAN WHO REFUSED TO BE FIRED

I was at the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors meeting in San Antonio over the weekend when the ceremonial reading of Texas newspaper people who had shuffled off the mortal coil over the past year touched off one of my "Memories of a 43-year newspaper career." Among the names read was that of Robert P. (Bob) Clark, who I had all but forgotten had moved to Texas many years ago and who I probably would have thought had died years before if I spent much time thinking about that sort of thing. Bob was 91 when he passed, pretty surprising longevity for a newspaper editor.
 
It was Bob, a very affable fellow, who hired me at The Times. and I always got along pretty well with him. However, the same could not be said for Harry Ammon, the only person I've ever known who got away with refusing to be fired.
 
Harry was an interesting character and one of the best writers and reporters I've ever known. When I started at the Times, he been there about 25 years during which his career went through an incredible cycle of ups and downs. At the time, he was pretty much at the bottom of his worst-ever and longest down cycle and had found himself back working Saturday mornings. But this didn't bother Harry, because it gave him a chance to engage in one of his favorites side businesses -- bookmaking.
 
Every Saturday morning, when the only two other people in the Times newsroom were me and Assistant City Editor Harold "Gentle Ben" Benjamin, Harry would pull to his desk two or three phones from other adjoining desks and use them to take, make and layoff horse race bets -- an avocation that earned him the nickname "Harry the Horse," and brought him an estimated $50,000 a year income in 1972 dollars. In addition, Harry had inherited a family printing business, which he had other people run for him and drew another income of about $65,000 to $70,000 a year. Unlike everyone else, Harry really didn't need to work at the paper for the about $15,000 he was being paid. That fact, I suppose, was the source of his free-wheeling, independent attitude that had resulted in him having and displaying a lack of respect for people he chose not to respect -- one them was Bob Clark.
 
Things had gotten to a point where Bob had pretty much had it with Harry and decided to fire him. Bob -- who always spoke in the first person plural when he had a dirty job to do, I guess because it made he feel like he had allies -- called Harry into his office one Friday morning for a conversation that supposedly went something like this:

BOB: Harry, we've been giving this a lot of thought and we feel you would be happier somewhere else. (Sheepish smile.)

HARRY: No, Bob, your wrong. I am actually perfectly happy here.

Harry then got up walked out of the office and sat back down at his desk, where he remained for quite a few years after Bob had left the paper.