September 16, 2019

Farewell to a Mentor

Today, I’m going to do something different.

All previous entries have dealt with me and my progress – among other things – with establishing my website.

But this time, I’m going to do something which – while I am pretty good at – never gives me pleasure.

A tribute.

I recently learned that a man who had been not only a friend but also a mentor had recently passed away.

His name was Harold Prentiss, and for many years he was the editor of The Milton Standard in Milton, Pa.

I worked with Harold for the last six years of his tenure as the paper’s editor. And I look back on those six years very fondly, because Harold was the best person I’ve ever had the privilege of working for.

I remember the day as if it was yesterday. It was Christmas 1987. I was working on the road, and looking for a job which would free me from that nomadic existence. Our local newspaper had an ad, reporting that a reporter’s position was open on The Milton Standard, so I called the number and asked to speak to the person listed.

I was informed that the person was unavailable, and I silently cursed my luck. Because I was on the road, I was scheduled to leave for my next assignment in a couple of days, which would have taken me out of state. There was no way I could be around for an interview under those circumstances.

Fortunately, I mentioned to the person on the line what I wanted. He said that he was the one who would actually be doing the interviewing, and would be happy to talk to me the next day.

That person turned out to be Harold, of course. I went down and the interview went well. I showed him some of my old stories, and he said he would get back to me.

It was a rough two weeks folks. I really wanted that job, and I was on edge the entire time. I eventually called Harold, and he told me I was still in the running for the job.

I did get the job, of course, and for me started one of the best times of my life.

Oh there were trouble spots of course. The pay was lousy, and the folks who owned the paper had a philosophy that if you want more money – go elsewhere. Anyone off the street could do as good a job.

The major reason I stayed was because of Harold. I’ve always said that good bosses don’t grow on trees, and Harold was the best. If I ever had a problem, I could always talk to him about. My desk sat in front of his, and many times we would just sit and chat – usually discussing stories, or situations that might yield something fruitful.

It’s funny, thinking back on it. I had been out of the newspaper business for about seven years. All I had was a handful of clips that I had produced during my previous time on another newspaper. By all accounts, I should not have gotten that job – it should have gone to someone with way more experience.

But Harold saw something in me, and for that I will always be grateful. It under him that I really blossomed as a reporter. I developed a talent covering police events and trials. I learned about handling people. I also found I had a knack for writing personal columns – every reporter was required to do so, because the paper did not want to pay to purchase professional ones.

Harold and I always shared an interest in photography. This was an unexpected bonus for Harold – I had not mentioned this during the interview. But he was delighted when he found out I was a darkroom technician. He was one too, and it took some of the burden off him whenever someone – usually me – brought something in at the last minute that had to be developed so it would appear in the day’s edition.

Harold and I became very close during my time at The Milton Standard. Although we did not agree on 100 percent of everything, we respected each other so much that it didn’t matter one bit when we had a disagreement.

When I say disagreement, I mean difference of opinion. Through all the years, I never can recall a time when there was a single cross word between us.

I’ve always considered myself most fortunate to have known Harold. It’s rare that a person has a mentor in his or her life. For me, it was Harold. I always looked up to him, and asked him for advice, even after my time at The Milton Standard has ended.

Through the years, I kept in touch with Harold, but sadly, not as much as what I would have liked. I had to move on to other things, and those other things took me out of the area where he lived. But I managed to call him occasionally, and we exchanged pleasantries, as well as me keeping him up to date.

Then, a few weeks ago, I called to ask him something. I spoke to a family member, who informed me they had been trying everything possible to get in touch with me. I knew then what had happened. She informed me that Harold has died a few days before of a heart attack.

His wife Rita, who I also hold dear, told me it was very sudden. So I’m grateful that he didn’t suffer too much at the end. But as the Bible says, it is written that all men must die, and it must eventually come to each and every one of us.

Don’t be fooled folks. I’m not quite as philosophical about this as I appear. I’m already missing him terribly, and that’s an ache that will never go away. But I can still see him now, telling me “C.J., don’t worry about it. Everything’s all right. You will manage just fine.”

So to you Harold I say adieu. Normally I’d say you were one-in-a-million, but that number is way too low. I think, one-in-a-billion would be more appropriate!”

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