To know her is to love her

Dateline: Sat 03 Nov 2012

Roxanne Clark Morgan, who would have been 54 years old this month, was remembered Saturday as not only a compassionate boss ("a servant leader") but as "the best boss I ever had" by multiple colleagues, present and past, at the Indianapolis Star, where she was the copy desk chief until her death Oct. 14.

Considering the sources -- copy editors are schooled not to indulge in superlatives -- this was high praise, indeed. (All editors are warned at an early age that nothing is truly "unique.")

Ah, but she was. Genius IQ in scrufty blue jeans and T-shirts, "short as a fireplug," long on concern for all creatures, serene in the eye of the newsroom storm --- oops, she hated cliches -- and always gentle, instructive and well-informed as a teacher, she was, simply, an original.

If nothing else, it's a tribute to how good she was that so many of us who quit, or were fired, or RIF'd, stepped back inside 307 N. Penn on Saturday for her memorial service. As one former copy editor said, it took two weeks to screw up the guts to walk into the Gannett lair, but, "I won't eat their food -- that's where I draw the line."

Fortunately, the words were both nourishing and lavish.

"She always kept it real, and she would have wanted us to do the same," said former co-worker/copy editor/good buddy Pete Scott, who left the Star in 2004 and was among several people eulogizing Rox today.

"I am trying to figure it out -- all of us being here together. I see all kinds of people in this room... Roxanne is the bond for us."

Pete talked about his friend's humility. If a newbie asked her a style question, her response invariably was, "I think the rule is this...but you might want to look it up." (My own memory: she'd say this with a self-effacing smile. Never superior).

Former Star editor Ted Daniels quoted the Star's political reporter Mary Beth Schneider who offered this comment on an obit site: "She never called a reporter with a lame question, only good ones. She made your copy better."

As great as all this was, my favorite part was hearing about her in off-duty hours: she'd meet Pete for a drink at the Front Page, and when he'd walk in, she'd be there with a glass of sweet red wine on ice. How she did not like hugs, but they always exchanged one. How misty her beautiful blue eyes were; how sometimes her eyes would get wet when she was being told about something very important to that person. Her husband Steve cut to the chase in describing her nurturing of others: "She was the best thing that ever happened to me...she took good care of me."

In that vein, Pete asked that her passing have meaning in a very mortal sense: "We have got to take care of ourselves." He added that Rox had recently lost weight and changed her "crappy" eating habits.

I must add, in my years of working with and for her on the desk, (1981 and again in 1986) I never heard her complain about her job, the brutal late hours, the sedentary existence, the deadlines -- except once. It was during one of those god-awful reorganizations to which Gannett subjected its employees. Amazingly, Roxanne was being passed over for copy desk chief -- after all her years of exemplary service, all those 1 a.m. deadlines, all that precision and talent and expertise and mentoring. She wasn't happy about it, but she wasn't bitter. She simply stated what was going on.

A few weeks later, the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. As I understood it, some of her loyal co-workers had gone to the big boss and told him what was what: that the quiet little woman in blue jeans was the true power within the copy desk operation. Thus she got her promotion and raise.

She deserved it and so much more.

With profound thanks to Jenny Morlan, Pete Scott, and Bobby King for organizing the memorial and speaking out powerfully today; with appreciation to Tim and Jen Evans for their beautiful singing; with gratitude to Phil Mahoney for the inspiring video of Roxanne's life, and with deepest sympathy to Steve and all of us who miss our friend, colleague and mentor. 

She was unique.










joe stuteville [unverified] said:

Well said, Ruth.

2012-11-06 06:48:19

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Thanks, Ruthie for writing this and taking me once again among those I was truly privileged to have spent so many days.

She was such a steady presence in the newsroom.

Her gift was not only about fixing copy and pulling coherence from wandering clauses, she made everything better, she was an improver and that was her gift to us all.

2012-11-06 09:47:38

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