Tuesday, December 2, 2014

NEWSPAPER FRIENDS: WHEN LIFE STOPS GIVING AND STARTS TAKING AWAY

UPDATE (1-8-2015): Queenie Pemelton, my friend and my Community Editor for the nearly 13 years I was editor of The Monitor, succumbed to her long battle with breast cancer this evening after more than a month in hospice care. Rest in Peace, Queenie. They simply don't make them like you anymore. 

UPDATE: Sometimes, there really is nothing I like better than good news. My friend, Monitor Community Editor Queenie Pemelton, after having her ventilator removed last night and breathing on her own, has taken a turn for the better. Perhaps prayers and well wishes do work. Either way, there now appears to be some reason for at least cautious optimism.

******


This morning I am reminded of an actually pretty poignant line from the last Indiana Jones movie, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:"

"We've reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away."

For the second time in less than a week, a newspaper friend could to be headed toward the final edition.

Last Wednesday, we lost longtime friend Larry Nighswander, who was my assistant managing editor for photo and design when I was managing editor of The Cincinnati Post, who died of a sudden heart attack. Larry was one of the media's best photo editors and visual educators of the past 30+ years.

Today, Queenie Pemelton, my community editor for the nearly 13 years I was editor of The Monitor, in McAllen, Texas, before my retirement last year, is hanging on by a thread at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Like Larry, Queenie, 61, is a very special person.

She is a veteran of more than 30 years at The Monitor. And, although Queenie is not a "trained" (i.e., college graduate with a degree in journalism) journalist, she is nonetheless not only the news staffer best known to the public, she is probably the person whose name most often comes to mind when anyone in the public thinks of The Monitor.

For tens of thousands of full-time area residents and part-time "Winter Texans," Queenie -- who came to the newsroom from the back shop and got her journalism training on the job -- personifies The Monitor.

As community editor, a title I crafted for her years ago, her job for more than two decades has been to do the intake, editing and placement of the scores of press releases the newspaper receives every day from a wide variety of community people, groups and organizations from across The Monitor's circulation area, many of them hand delivered by the procession of mostly ordinary people who show up at her desk daily. Although most of these people could just as easily mail or email their press releases about a garden club meeting or a son or daughter receiving special honors at college or graduating from military boot camp, etc., they come in person because they love talking with Queenie, who always gives each of them a few minutes to chat despite her inordinately heavy workload created by the many press releases in need of editing.

To me, Queenie represents one of the things that I've always liked best about The Monitor -- it makes room daily to run many seemingly mundane community press releases dealing with the accomplishments and highly localized interests of thousands and thousands of readers and subscribers and does so not in some segregated "special" publication, but as part of the daily newspaper without in any way "harming" the paper's well-recognized professionalism.

I firmly believe that through her work, her character, her caring and her boundless love for the ordinary folks of the Rio Grande Valley, Queenie, for years, was highly instrumental in helping The Monitor stave off some of the precipitous circulation drops experienced by many other daily newspapers.

But for years now, Queenie has been waging war against breast cancer. For a while there, after several operation and much chemotherapy, many of us thought -- and hoped -- that she had won her battle. However, last week she suffered a seizure that again sent her to the hospital where she ended up being put on a ventilator. A CAT scan, according to information passed along to me, revealed that she had developed five brain tumors that have been ruled in operable.

Yesterday evening, the decision was made to remove the ventilator and although she was breathing on her own afterward, the prognosis is not good.

A mutual friend, who is keeping my updated via text messages, sent one last night that said: "Queenie is no longer the Queenie we know."

But, I beg to differ. Regardless of what happens next, in my mind, Queenie will ALWAYS be the Queenie I have known -- a very special person and a very special brand of journalist.

-30-