Bob Thomas: Farewell, River City

Well, it’s not really my farewell, but you must admit it does sound theatrical. However, it is farewell to my Nevada Appeal weekly column. As most of you know, I’ve been writing columns off and on (mostly off) for 40 years, and I’ve taken that responsibility quite seriously.

Thinking about all those years brings to mind several editors and publishers with whom I’ve been associated, all different personalities. There have been at least eight editors and six publishers and, of course, all through those changes it was Deputy Editor Sue Morrow who kept the newsroom glued together.

In my earlier years the Appeal was owned by Don Reynolds — Donrey Media Group — which also owned lots of roadside billboards as well as 58 newspapers, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The chain was very well-endowed financially and Reynolds was well-known for his foundation’s generosity, including the newest journalism building on the UNR campus.

In the 1990s the biggest change took place when the Swift organization bought the Appeal from Reynolds. Swift also owns several newspapers.

The new publisher was Jeff Ackerman, who was not only the publisher but a great journalist and a dynamite satirical writer. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Ackerman recruited me as a weekly columnist, and he brought with him Editor Barry Smith, currently executive director of the Nevada Press Association.

I ended up writing weekly for Smith-Ackerman much longer than for any other editor-publisher combination, and I must say that the Appeal operated like a well-oiled machine except for the sports section. The sports section fell far short of today’s, but world and national news coverage was much broader then.

Barry Smith was a good editor but not very sociable. I’d been writing for the paper for a few months and I don’t remember Barry ever saying anything about my columns. In those days we didn’t have email access to the editor. I wrote my columns on standard typed sheets, double spaced, then handed them to Barry. He would look them over, grunt and hand them back to me for delivery into the system via a final typist.

One time Barry took me by surprise when, after looking at my column draft, shoved it back to me and said, “It’s too long; cut it.” This particular essay was dear to my heart and I protested vigorously, saying, “Geez, Barry, it can’t be shortened without losing its impact.” He said, “Wanna bet?” I got the message, took 100 words out of it and to my surprise it read a helluva lot better.

On another occasion, I decided I’d have some fun with Barry. I mentioned that every summer my wife and I took 10 weeks of vacation on our boat. We’d owned a Grand Banks motor yacht for over 24 years and kept her in Canada. Every summer we’d fly to Victoria, hop aboard our boat and cruise the Inside Passage with enough booze to get to Alaska.

I could see Barry’s mind working overtime as he wondered whom to replace me with for 10 weeks, or permanently. Just before it was time to leave, I dropped 10 written columns on his desk, and that’s the only time I ever saw him flustered. He used all 10, and the following summer we did it again.

Yes, I’ve valued writing all these years. I appreciated your letters and took them seriously. I hope you did the same with my columns. God bless.

Cheers, Bob.


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