My boss has a poster in his office of the British saying that has lately become such a catchphrase: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
I can see it every time I look up from my computer. I’ve been trying to keep that in mind today as I watch him clean out his desk on this, his last day here.
It’s hard to remember that phrase when I’m an eyeblink away from tears.
I know a little something about economics. Businesses need to meet expenses, people get laid off, life goes on. But this layoff has hit me hard. This is our Fearless Leader we’re talking about here, the go-to guy, the one always ready to take the hit – or the fall.
Thirty-five years, people have been saying, “Well, that’s a Hasso question,” or, “What does Hasso think about that?” or, “Better run it by Hasso first.”
Publishers, smumblishers. Hasso is the boss and always has been.
It’s hard to watch that empire crumble.
I knew the name “Hasso Hering” long before I first applied for a job at the Democrat-Herald, as a newly-minted college graduate way back in 1991. It was hard not to know it. He had a reputation for being tough, and a little scary. He had the valley’s respect.
I’d sent out my resume to newspapers around the state. I’d called back to make sure someone had received it, and then I’d ask if there were openings. Even if there weren’t, I’d ask to make an appointment to show the editors some clips.
The editor of one paper – I won’t name which - let me know in no uncertain terms that I was wasting her time. She had no openings, she said, and even if she did, she had a list the length of her arm of people to call who were far more qualified than me. True story.
I said this in Hasso’s farewell People page, but it’s worth repeating: I got a much different reception from the Democrat-Herald. Hasso welcomed me cordially, sat me down in his office, asked me a little about myself and looked over my portfolio. He told me he had no openings, but he gave me a short tour and answered a few questions and wished me good luck. I will never forget that courtesy.
I had the great good fortune to be hired here four years later. I’m now a month away from wrapping up my 17th year. This is home now. Like Hasso, they’ll have to make me go.
It’s not as though we never disagreed. My colleagues and I have plenty of stories to share of our Hasso years. He’d sometimes read a story and come at me with a question so off-base I’d swear it was beamed to him by aliens. Or sometimes he’d ask me the very questions I’d taken such pains to answer. More than once I’d find myself asking, exasperated, “Did you read the story?”
Yes, we argued on occasion. We all did. That’s what you get when you mix strong personalities with issues like Freedom of Expression and the Right of the People to Know and Yes, I DO Think That Story’s A Flipping Waste Of Time.
But here’s what I’m really going to remember: the boss who knew the background of every business in town, the pros and cons of every city council decision made in the last three decades, the cell phones of every mover and shaker in the valley.
I’m going to remember the things he taught me, even though I don’t practice them very well. Summarize, he’d say. Tell it in 12 inches. Even the Second Coming doesn’t need a headline that big.
I’m going to remember his work ethic, and the way you could find him here days and nights and weekends and holidays, methodically churning out editorials (two a day, usually). Most executive editors don’t write news stories, but he did. Most could delegate the building of pages, but he didn’t. He’d use his break times to bicycle around town and pick up story ideas. He’d go to council meetings on his days off, just to keep up with the issues. My colleague Steve Lathrop told us a story the other day of a time when Hasso said, “You know, I was looking at the tax rolls over the weekend …” as if it were an activity like renting a movie or going out to dinner.
The standard office joke: When can you tell that Hasso’s on vacation? When he comes to work in jeans.
I think what I’ll remember the most, though, is the way that almost nothing rattled him. I’d be tearing out my hair over some source’s unreasonable demands or some public official’s refusal to go on the record, and he’d just give me a bemused chuckle and tell me to simmer down. He did that on the phone with outraged readers, too, or in person with irritated government officials, or with anyone who wanted to have a piece of his time. He’d tell them flat out, with that same bemused chuckle, that they were overreacting, and that it wasn’t worth getting all worked up about, and what was the big problem, anyway?
He’s handled this position cut with the same aplomb, quietly going about cleaning out his things. He’s spent every minute of his work day the way he always has, filming his “DH Today” video, taking phone calls, pounding away on the computer.
Keep Calm and Carry On.
And so, with his lessons in our memories, we will.