In the Suburbs / "To my editor, Frances, thanks for a great run"
When my first editor, Pat Hines, retired from Fairfield Citizen a little more than a year ago, I felt like I had lost my mentor and support system. For more than 20 years, I had learned how to be a better columnist, and suddenly I was going to have to prove myself to a new editor, Frances Moore, who was moving to the Citizen from the Brooks newspapers in Darien and Westport.
Falling into my usual pattern of asking for guidance and insights, I asked Pat how I should handle the transition. "Should I be concerned?" I asked her. "Will there be changes?"
As was her regular style, Pat left me to sort out the details and the right path to take. "You could call Frances or stop by and meet her," Pat said. "As of right now, I haven't heard about any changes with columnists. So I guess you just continue what you've been doing and do it even better."
That proved to be great advice and I learned pretty quickly that I needn't have worried. Frances was also a wonderful editor with similar expectations to Pat's. Unfortunately, she had been saddled with double the responsibilities and was actually the editorial coordinator for two newspapers -- the Fairfield Citizen and the Westport News, working closely with Gary Jeanfaivre, the then-managing editor of the Westport News.
Gary had relocated to the Fairfield office. The Hearst folks had done some office consolidation and I surmised that the Westport News offices were closed and some of Gary's colleagues had moved on voluntarily or otherwise.
What I have always appreciated about Frances was that, despite her frenetic schedule, she took the time to respond to all my e-mails and encouraged me to do some freelance work for the paper beyond the column. Sadly, I wasn't able to do more of that.
I was really grateful for the space she gave my story about The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield. It was a different kind of piece for me and gave me exposure to a subject that I'd always believed I was too culturally ignorant to cover. But the museum folks really liked the piece and that gave me a whole new direction for future writing.
Since Frances had two papers to put out twice a week, there was less time for her to spend on editing my pieces, so I tried harder to edit carefully before sending the column in. I had been working on that area before Pat left, but knew that editing was going to be more important than ever under Frances. I hope I've succeeded.
It took several months before I actually met Frances. I had stopped at the office a couple of times and missed her, but after a great piece she had written about how Fairfield is great for walking to and from work, I decided to stop by again.
This time, I found Frances in the office. She was appreciative of the good words on her editorial and of my brief visit. It was great to have finally met face-to-face. I had finally gotten out from behind my e-mails to meet my editor.
As much as I love the convenience of e-mails, they do create a social barrier that can be a problem for a columnist like me, who is trying to visualize my editor's real reactions to the work. But having met Frances, I have a better idea of her reactions.
Nevertheless, I honestly do sit for a short while after I've sent each week's column, still wondering how Frances is reacting, and I did the same thing with Pat. Call it columnist's angst, but I still question how I've been doing this for 22 years.
Frances has been particularly supportive of the publicity efforts I am making with the Fairfield Museum and told me she was looking forward to getting even more information from us. But she has always been clear that she'll consider only the strong news items and I have appreciated the candor.
Then, a few weeks ago, my good friend Bob, whom I introduced to Frances before his special reunion trip to Vietnam, told me over coffee that Frances was leaving the paper. He had approached her about doing some more freelance writing and she explained that Gary would be taking over and it would be best to discuss that with him.
For a moment, I just stared. "You're kidding," I said finally. "It's been such a short run and I feel like I'm just hitting my stride with Frances. I wonder when that is happening?"
Frances responded immediately to my e-mail of good luck, explaining that her decision to leave was based on wanting to be someplace where she could appreciate the environment, as well as contribute something different. She was getting out of the news business. If I'm not mistaken, she told me she was going to be doing work with the University of Rhode Island at its environmental education facility, W. Alton Jones, and I could totally see where she was coming from.
Editing two newspapers, twice a week, can be a hellish, thankless job. And while Frances had done it masterfully, she was wise about knowing when to move on.
Of course, I found myself asking the same kinds of questions I had asked Pat about what Gary's expectations would be and in her quiet fashion, Frances suggested that I work with Gary just as I've worked with her.
About a week later, she sent a set of recommended guidelines to make Gary's work with us columnists easier.
And since I'm already exceeding my 750 suggested word limit from Frances' guidelines, I will simply close by saying: Thanks Frances, for your help, your support and your interest in my work. You've been a wonderful editor, it's been a great run and I look forward to continuing the effort under Gary's direction. Stay in touch.
Steve Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.