Thursday, April 23, 2015

Prize-winning colleagues, every one

Someone said a long time ago it's not enough to be good; you've got to be lucky, too.  Dunno about the good part, but I do know that I've been a lucky guy for just about every one of these going-on 69 years. Had good parents, good teachers, good editors, good friends and good times.  Had superb bosses along the way -- Irwin Smallwood and John Alexander at the Greensboro Daily News, Ran Coble at the NC Center for Public Policy Research in Raleigh and Ed Williams and Rich Oppel at the Charlotte Observer.

But today I'm writing about the people I worked with and who have been recognized by their collegues as THE best in the business.  I'm talking about Maria Henson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her editorials about battered women when she worked for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentrucky.  She later joined the editorial staff at the Observer and worked for several years with me in the Observer's Raleigh Bureau. With her energy and drive and insistence on good writing and and her impatience with ineffective government, Maria showed why she won journalism's top prize.  She's now Associate Vice President and Senior Editor at Wake Forest University.

And I'm talking about Kevin Siers, the Minnesotan who came south to draw pictures for the Observer's editorial pages a couple of decades ago and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for "thought provoking cartoons drawn with a sharp wit and bold artistic style."  Kevin's work was at times hilarious and and times painfully poignant but always with a sharp point.  He was also a most collegial co-worker.  I never spent more than a week or two in Charlotte at any one time, but always enjoyed wandering into his office to see what he was working on, and to get him to tell me how he was doing.  Almost every time it was, "Not too bad."  Yep. Pulitzer Prize.  Not too bad.

And I'm talking about Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, who this week won the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting about wrongdoing and mismanagement in the Secret Service. She was part of a team that won last year's Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on national security issues, and won various other prizes for her investigative reporting, including stories about Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife that eventually led to their convictions in court.  Carol worked in the office next to me in the Observer's Raleigh Bureau, and watching her investigate wrongdoing in state government was like being in a classroom with an excellent teacher.  Haven't known many people who could so quickly develop such good sources that produced so many useful stories that fulfilled the newspaper's key job of watching and reporting the truth. 

It surprises me not one whit that Maria, Kevin and Carol won the Pulitzer.  It does surprise me that many of my other colleagues at the Observer and in Greensboro have not also won the big prize for their labors in uncovering stories that huge institutions such as government and business did not want in print.  Their work was excellent and unrelenting and deserving of high honors, and maybe someday they will get them.

I won more than my fair share of prizes and honors in my four decades of journalism, but the closest I came to the big prize was probably the delightful meal served up by my then-Greensboro colleague, Windy March, now in Florida.  It was a chicken dish -- appropriately called "The Pullet Surprise."  It was a prize-winner, too. 

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