Reflections from CQS Program Director Karen Catone

Karen Catone

John Quinn would hate the notion that his passing would be shared on something called Twitter via a “Tweet.” As someone whose career in (and love for) journalism started in 1943 as a copy boy at The Providence Journal — who then graduated to writing obits (for which he took great care and pride) — I can see him now, rolling his eyes and shaking his head at the mere thought of it. His tools of the trade included a Teletype, a fax machine and an Underwood No. 5 typewriter. He never did quite understand new media, social media or the World Wide Web.

What he did understand was people. He was masterful at making everyone who was blessed to know and work with him feel seen, heard and valued — always nudging us out of our current comfort zone in an effort to help us reach our fullest potential.

JCQ’s path and mine first intersected in the summer of 1973. Gannett’s corporate headquarters were on the 5th floor of the newspaper building in downtown Rochester, NY. He was executive editor of the two local newspapers and the Gannett Company’s vice president of news. Intended to be just a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years of community college, my duties as corporate mail girl included, among other things, to make sure that each edition of the local newspapers (and in those days there were several) was on his desk before the ink had dried.

And so it began. I could always count on him for a cheery “What a great day for a picnic” greeting whenever our paths crossed.

That was part of JCQ’s magic. No one, regardless of position, was insignificant. Not a secretary, a janitor, a waitress, a bartender or barmaid (especially a barmaid!) – or the company’s mail girl.

It would be 22 years before we had the opportunity to work together again – he as co-founder of the Chips Quinn Scholars program and me as its newest coordinator.

Years in between aside, his impact on my life is everywhere. If I wasn’t working directly with JCQ, I was fortunate throughout most of my career to be working with/for someone who had. (He would be the first to respond with a wisecrack to the effect, “You have my deepest sympathy.”)

It is an impossible task, to sum up the many wonderful memories and most valuable lessons JCQ imparted to me these past 44 years. But these I think I will remember most:

— His wry Irish wit.

— His love of storytelling.

— How tireless he was. First one in. Last one out. And never a yawn in between.

— His creativity. The ability to focus on a solution – always thinking outside the box (and encouraging you to do likewise).

— His sense of loyalty. To his work, to his staff, to the readers, to his ancestors and mentors, family, wife and friends. And to his many mentees (way too numerous to count), which included many a Chips Quinn Scholar. I don’t think there was a class of Chips Quinn Scholars he didn’t admonish: “Don’t forget to reach back and help pull others over the wall, too.”

— His deep and abiding faith. At one time in his young life, he pondered the priesthood. No doubt his faith is what sustained him through some of life’s biggest heartaches – the deaths of two sons and of Loie, the girl of his dreams, mother of his children and lifelong love of his life.

— His stubbornness. Just one example: His attempts to retrain me (after 20+ years) to address him as John instead of Mr. Quinn. “Mr. Quinn was my father,” he would quip. It was one of my steeper learning curves. JCQ eventually prevailed. He usually did.

Leezel Tanglao, John Quinn and Talia Buford.

— How sentimental he was. I can’t recall a day when John wasn’t donning a CQS lapel pin (including on his pajamas at the rehab center in Rhode Island while recovering from knee surgery) – something we created as a giveaway at a journalism conference 15 years ago. Or his and Loie’s wedding bands, worn on a chain around his neck since her passing in 2005. Nor can I see him without the navy blue sweater (regardless of the temperature) with the embroidered heart (Loie’s trademark signature), a gift from his children shortly after Loie’s death.

— His grace. His acceptance of life on life’s terms and his refusal to complain about anything, least of all the infirmities that accompany aging.

— And, always, his signature sign-off, making the recipients of his Underwood No. 5 notes feel both embraced and encouraged: Cheers! Onward and upward.

Thank you, JCQ, for allowing me the life-changing opportunity to work alongside you in shepherding the next generation of journalists for all these many years. They have been among the most rewarding of my career.

Most of all, copy boy, I have a heart filled with gratitude. Thank you for taking the time to reach back and pull this mail girl over the wall with you.

Cheers! Onward and upward. Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections from CQS Program Director Karen Catone

  1. Karen-a beautiful reflection. I have no doubt that your relationship with John was mutual and that he admired and valued all you have done to support the Freedom Forum. Congratulations-you have played a meaningful role in the evolution of the organization from Vince Jones and Pat Wolfe to Gene Dorsey focus on 85 Gannett communities to the transformation lead by Al Neuharth and Charles Overby to the broad enterprise today that celebrates and supports First Amendment Freedoms! Well done and best wishes for continued success.

    • Dear Marty,
      What a lovely note. Thanks! I appreciate it. It’s been a great journey. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with so many smart, talented and dedicated people all these years. I remember when you were an intern, working alongside us. Fun times. Great memories. Wishing you all the best, too.

  2. John Quinn was a class act. He was a role model for countless journalists as to how to report ethically, while seeking the facts and the story.

  3. Beautiful job, Karen. He touched so many in so many ways. And you were special to him as well. Cheers, indeed.
    –Phil C.

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