It was straight out of the movies. We could hear James Earl Jones intoning: If you throw a party, they will come.
The occasion was the retirement of Fern Turkowitz, the administrator of the Sports Department, after a mere 47 years at the Times.
She has been compared to Derek Jeter and Radar in M*A*S*H and others who made it happen, whatever it was.
The Sports Department set up a toast at 5 PM on Friday, Fern’s last day at work. People said they have never seen a crowd like this -- the corn fields opening up, the old players emerging from history.
I won’t try to re-produce the praise for Fern. Maybe it stays in house. Maybe it’s out there in the social media. How would I know?
What touched me were the faces filing through the corn field – starting with current masthead names like Sulzberger and Baquet and Chira and maybe others I did not spot. That was gracious of them, indicating the respect for Fern throughout the building. Dozens and dozens of current Times employees were there, too numerous to mention.
Then there were the old-timers, who keep in touch, but never so many in one place, some visiting the “new building” for the first time since the Times moved from 43rd St. to Eighth Avenue in 2007.
Just off the top of my addled head, what a thrill to see Alex Yannis, who covered World Cups, and Barbara Lloyd, who wrote about sailing, Gerry Eskenazi. Dave Anderson. Lawrie Mifflin, who wrote and was a deputy sports editor. Susan Adams, one of the great copy editors. Ray Corio, ditto. Neil Amdur. Bob Lipsyte. Arthur Pincus. Paul Winfield, another favorite editor. And Paul Belinkie, who could dunk a basketball, he said. I know I’m forgetting some.
Then there were younger people who moved on to other jobs for good reasons but remain part of the team, and always will. Malcolm Moran. Judy Battista. Greg Bishop. Pete Thamel. Howard Beck. Joe Sexton. They just came back. It seemed so natural, so right.
Some came in from Seattle or Indiana or Boston or the East Side, for goodness’ sakes. Waves of all-star teams. All of us in our time had pestered Fern for credentials, or submitted sloppy expense statements, or lost rental cars, or lost ourselves. Fern straightened it out, part Mother Teresa, part Nurse Ratched, but always indispensable to eight sports editors from Jim Roach to Jason Stallman.
The party continued down the street. May still be going on.
These are “interesting times” for print journalism. I came away from this party for our colleague, our friend Fern Turkowitz, feeling the core pride in ourselves, in each other, and mostly in The New York Times. We have lived by the credo: If we print it, "they" will read it.
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Two things I should add:
Terri-Ann Glynn did a great job putting the party together.
And some of the usual suspects in the office gave terrific speeches and put together a 7-page journal about Fern, which Melissa notes in her nice comment below. I think the journal fits into the clubhouse slogan of "what you see here, stays here," but it reflected Fern's impact on all of us. GV
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023