Our Yarmouth Vanguard editor Fred A. Hatfield has retired from our Vanguard newsroom. In her weekly column, Tina Comeau reflects on her 24 years of working with Fred.
A few days before he retired I went into his office with some confetti (a.k.a. torn up pieces of a yellow sticky note) and threw them into the air.
“Woo hoo! There’s your party,” I said, knowing this was the extent of the celebration he’d want in his honour.
No cake. No balloon drop. No gifts. No fuss.
In fact his ultimate exit was just as low key – an email with the subject line ‘Goodbye’ popped up in our inboxes with him telling us he was gone and what a pleasure it had been to work with all of us in the newsroom.
Him slipping out quietly didn’t give me the opportunity to go bursting into his office one last time to give him a hug, which he would have hated anyway. Likely he also didn’t want to give me the opportunity to shed tears.
We’ve been without him before in the newsroom for extended periods. We joke about it now, the times he was ‘dead.’ Given the health issues he went through, that he is still alive really is a miracle. One time he was away from the office for 14 months. We didn’t know for sure if he was coming back, although we held out this hope. He did. Phew.
This time, though, he’s done.
He’s gone. He’s retired.
Like Elvis, Fred has left the building.
As I write this column I do so with a huge lump in my throat. Fred has been more than a boss. He’s been a mentor. He’s been a friend. He’s been a sounding board. He’s been comic relief. And he’s been like a second father.
I was young when I started working at this newspaper, just barely 21. On my first day of work I couldn’t believe that he assigned me a meeting to cover that night – as in alone.
I was so nervous.
But really if you’re going to do something you might as while jump right in.
Or, in this case, get pushed.
Although I had graduated, I had only been hired on as a summer reporter. With the end of August approaching I was worried about where I’d be working when my Vanguard gig was up. I desperately wanted to work at my hometown newspaper.
So you can imagine my relief when I got a handwritten note from Fred (I still have that note) telling me that he was really happy with how I was working out and they were offering me a full-time position.
Oh, and I was getting a $15 weekly raise to boot.
Throughout my 24 years at the office with Fred, as a newsroom we’ve been through a lot. We’ve seen changes in technology that we never could have foreseen in the days we were mixing chemicals in the photo darkroom and gluing the words of our stories onto pages to be readied for the printing process.
We’ve seen faces come and go.
Businesses come and go.
Buildings come and go.
Our hair and waistlines come and go.
This isn’t an easy job. With just a handful of people we’re expected to know everything about everyone that is happening every day everywhere. Yet despite the mental stresses and deadlines that come with the job, we always managed to get it done, while having a lot of fun along the way.
There probably isn’t a workplace that couldn’t produce its own sitcom and our newsroom is no exception. I could never count the number of times I sat in Fred’s office and laughed so hard my belly hurt.
And the things that man knows and remembers about Yarmouth. Impressive to say the least.
His leaving creates a big hole in our newsroom. More importantly, it creates a big hole in journalism in this town. Everything I have seen in my years in this newsroom just scratches the surface of his experiences.
I’ll always think of Fred as the epitome of a newspaperman – except that he wears a tilley instead of a fedora. While we have the luxury of technology in the present day, hearing his stories of putting out newspapers in the past forever reminded me that to do something well, you had to do it the hard way, and the long way.
And never be afraid to let quality trump quantity.
I have many awards hanging on the wall next to my desk or sitting on my desk. There are awards for being an outstanding journalist, an outstanding photographer. There are awards for best news story, best feature story, best news photo, best feature series and the list goes on. But also taped to the wall amid all of these awards is a nail.
It’s been taped to my wall for five years.
When I passed in a particular story years ago for Fred to edit, he gave it back to me with a nail taped to the corner of the page, telling me it was amongst my best work. An award in my future for certain, he said.
Apparently the judge disagreed. There is no award hanging on that nail, and yet that nail means more to me than any of the plaques or certificates hanging alongside it.
This is because when it came to my work, I valued Fred’s opinion above all others.
I know we can never adequately thank Fred for everything he’s done for all of us who have worked with him in this newsroom, nor for everything he’s taught us. The best way to display such gratitude, one supposes, is through our continued work.
I always said goodbye to Fred at the end of the day when I left the newsroom before he did. But on the day he retired he beat me to the punch. And he said goodbye in the way that suited him.
No party. No cake. No hug. No teary-eyed goodbye. Instead just a heartfelt email to wish us well and to express his thanks.
But Mr. Fred A. Hatfield, it is to you we owe our thanks – and not just those of us who work at this newspaper, but those who read it as well.
In the end, I guess a face-to-face goodbye was really a moot point. Knowing Fred would soon be leaving, I had already started missing him before he left. But as the longest-serving editor of this newspaper, he’ll forever be a part of our Vanguard newsroom.
So it’s not really “Goodbye.”
“Good job” seems more appropriate.