Monday, October 12, 2009

John McPoland, rest in peace

Last week our good friend Todd Milewski forwarded me a notice that John McPoland passed away after a 21-month battle with cancer. Very sad news, very sad. John had a big impact on my life, I owe a great deal to him.

As my junior year in Madison was winding down, I was searching for an internship, and getting nowhere. One afternoon, out of the blue I got a call from John, who asked me to come down to Janesville to interview for an internship with the Gazette. Weird, I thought, I hadn't applied.

Turns out I had -- the year before. In an envelope that arrived in Janesville postage due. And they called me anyway. John and I talked for awhile, and late in the conversation he made a Simpsons reference that I got immediately. "We could have saved a lot of time if you had told me right away that you were a Simpsons fan," he said.

My internship was producing Diamond Chatter, a weekly tabloid devoted to Janesville-area baseball and softball. I covered Little League, Class A minor league, Legion, rec softball, you name it. It was a great opportunity to really own something, not the usual internship fare.

I worked with John on a daily basis, but he didn't micromanage me. Every day brought a good piece of advice. Here's the one that stuck with me: I wrote a story that used the word "concurred." Editing the story, John shot me a look and said "He didn't 'concur.' He 'agreed.'" It was a great lesson for a young writer with a quick trigger for the thesaurus.
He also told me early on that I would be an editor. No, I said, I'm a writer. Writers don't make as much money as editors -- you'll be an editor, he insisted. And that's what happened.

It was a great summer. At the end I went to Packers training camp with John to gather material for our fall football tab. After the summer I covered Badger sports for the Gazette on a regular basis, but never really saw John much after that. I remember how much time and effort he used to put into his Sunday column, really tried to make it thought-provoking, if not controversial. He relished telling the story about how, early in his Janesville tenure, he sang "On Wisconsin" in public after the Badgers beat his alma mater, Iowa State, in one of those ugly games early in Barry Alvarez's time in Madison.

He loved NASCAR, which we used to argue about. We talked about the big events he'd covered, like the Super Bowl and the Rose Bowl, and I just ate it up, itching for the time when I would do the same.

There are some tributes out there about John, I had a hard time reading them without tearing up.

From Scott Angus (who was editor during my internship)

Try making it through both of those without misting up a little bit, even if you never knew the guy.

John was a great guy. He'll be missed.


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