Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Few Words to the Hall of Fame Folks

(Tonight is the induction ceremony for the Class of 2010 for the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame at the ritzy Country Club of Virginia in Richmond. If I haven't screamed it loud enough before now: I'm in that class. Here's what I'm going to say to the gathered elites.)

Good evening, lovely people. Y’all look so pretty in all that regal finery.

I have said several times that I feel like Ugly Betty in a beauty pageant, but I think I may have understated the case. This is, indeed, a distinguished group of communicators and when I look over the list of 117 others, I can’t help but wonder, “What in the hell am I doing up here?”

In fact, my older brother Sandy asked me the same thing a little while ago. Families don’t let us dwell in our illusions.

When I started in this business in the fall 1964—after brief and failed career attempts as a fry cook and a stock boy—an old Guadalcanal platoon sergeant named Al Geremonte was assigned to watch out for me. I was an apprentice newspaperman and he was God.

Pretty quickly, Al established the natural order of things. “I’m going to teach you what I know,” he said, “and for that I expect you to mow my lawn on occasion and pass this craft on to others. That’s how we keep it going.”

Al and his blue pencil made things simple and if I heard him say it once, I heard him say 1,000 times, “Write the way you speak and speak well.” Al gave me permission to use my voice and one of the supreme pleasures of my life has been to help return voice to those whose education or culture have taken it away. A distinctive voice is the greatest asset a writer has.

Mine has been an often dysfunctional and unpredictable career of minor successes interrupted by major failures, firings and new opportunities to learn a wide array of communications-based skills. It is, I think, the constant change, the need to build upon new skills that has kept me running hard and fast over all these years.

I am 63 years old and in the past 15 months I have entered 1,000 blog postings—which we used to call essays. It is a new skill for an old man and it is the very essence of this profession: talking to the most people in the best and most efficient way.

When I began more than 45 years ago, type was made of lead. Now, it is electronic impulse. In a marvelous recent little book, Printer’s Devil, Bruce Michelson insists that during Mark Twain’s lifetime, printing achieved more advancement than before or since. Bruce, obviously didn’t take into account any two or three week period since about 1980 when printing and communication REALLY changed. It will continue radical change.

Since I was given only 3 1/2 minutes to do this--the length of one of my Public Radio essays--let me very briefly thank you a small number of people who have been of immense importance to me in this lifelong pursuit. They are not the only ones, but they rise to the top every time I think about it:
  • Betsy Gehman, something of a surrogate mother, who never let me veer far from sanity;
  • Jim Lindsey, who stood by me with unconditional support during one of the most difficult transitions of my life;
  • John Montgomery for showing me what grace is—although he didn’t teach me how to have it;
  • Tom Field who is my business partner and friend in the most satisfying venture in my four decades, Valley Business FRONT magazine;
  • Al Geremonte, for getting me started;
  • Every student I ever had for teaching me more far than I taught;
  • The saintly people of AA for giving me my life back;
  • And my wife, Christina, for thinking I’m still cute and for being there behind me—and sometimes in front of me and sometimes on top of me—every minute.
Thank you all for this special recognition.

1 comment:

  1. Fittingly, Dan, your speech communicates well who you are, where you come from, and what you have to say. Now -- if you can say it without drooling you'll be ahead of the game!