by Stephen Cellar
“Nothing is forever.”
These were the opening words to John Quinn’s final edition of Wire Watch, his weekly Gannett news column editorial. It grew into a group-wide communication link amongst colleagues exchanging ideas, information, opinions – with outrage occasionally erupting from its autonomous editor.
In that final column of Wire Watch, he wrote, “Now it is time for others to do their thing, to have their say and to meet those ‘goddamn’ weekend deadlines.”
He concluded this final column, published on the newsletter’s 15th anniversary, with the following:
“But the world is not rid of Wire Watch. As mood and circumstances suggest, Wire Watch may crank up the old underwood No. 5 for an occasional essay or commentary or outburst – depending on how inspired or cantankerous the spirit gets – for offering to any of the new generation willing to accept it.”
In his honor, I’ve dusted off the old Underwood No. 5, and typed this up by hand, so that JCQ, with a little help from his young assistant editor, can deliver it.
First, a few life lessons that John picked up over his long life and career that he wished to share with you today:
From poet Robert Frost via JCQ’s granddad:
Our reach must exceed our grasp, else what is a heaven for?
From JCQ’s mother when he had a bad day:
Think well of yourself; if not, who will?
From an early journalism mentor:
Get it first, but first get it right.
From an old editor when the young reporter was promoted to the Washington Bureau:
Remember when you’re in those big leagues, you’re still covering for us locals. And keep the mistletoe off your shirttail.
From the last memo of the late Chips Quinn to his staff:
Care. Care. Care. Take It. Show It.
From JCQ’s mother to his late wife Loie:
When you love someone, you care more about that person’s happiness and well-being than you do your own.
From Chips Quinn in his news internship days:
Take your work very seriously; never take yourself too seriously.
From JCQ’s college Latin class, to the chagrin of his teacher:
Ne illegitimus carbarundum est. (Don’t let the bastards get you down.)
From the late Loie Quinn, via an old church bulletin at St. Mary’s Church in San Francisco:
A hug is a perfect gift. One size fits all and no one minds if you return it.
Twelve years ago, when he asked me to deliver a eulogy for Loie, he asked me to ponder what my favorite memory of her was. Naturally, as I was editing JCQ’s, the same question came back to my mind.
It might be that time he fell in the Jacuzzi, but don’t tell him that.
It might be when he waved down at my friends and me from the Field House balcony as we fought with swords and chased each other through the patio — his glasses hiding whether he was concerned or amused.
It might be the warm nights down in Cocoa Beach, Fla., just him and me, sitting at his classic Wendell Castle desk, sipping cocktails and swapping stories and plans and philosophy into the morning hours.
I realized it wasn’t any one of these single moments but rather a montage of many that make up the long cherished tradition that many of you probably know as “the johnandloie lunch.”
For my sister and me, it began with a ride in whatever classic car Kiffer had working that day. We’d cruise over to one of John’s – or should I say Loie’s – favorite lunch spots. It always included a friendly smile from the waitress, good company and of course plenty of food, drink and “cheersing.”
He would always encourage us to try something adventurous and new. “You can get a cheeseburger anywhere,” he’d remind Amelia and me. (A lesson she clearly remembers.)
But it wasn’t all fun and games and entrees. Just as you’d be settling into your mid-meal break, JCQ would break out his reporter hat for some on-the-spot questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” was his go-to favorite. You’d head off to lunch thinking about clam chowdah (clear broth only, by the way), and you would come back pondering the meaning of your future.
After lunch, while Loie took her nap, he would lead us on a casual adventure through nostalgia, or should I say the Carolina (R.I.) Mill. We’d run off fixing antiques, winding clocks, creating hidden clubhouses, or cruising through the woods in his speedy little golf cart. He’d even let us steer.
In an interview he once said, “I loved every minute of every bit of travel and challenge in the newspaper business, but through it all, I’d rather be a lamp post on Carolina Mill Lane than in most of the other places I’ve seen around the world.” He made sure we knew exactly why.
This was the QUINNessential day with John. And it’s a tradition we’ve both carried on, in our own way, all these years – across different restaurants, cities, states and countries. Even when living on different coasts, he would be sure to tell us to “share a johnandloie lunch” with our loved ones. And he would always remind me “to give them a Loie hug.”
Of course, JCQ would not be finished without a few final closing words of his own writing. He never left anything to chance: his Boy Scout “Be Prepared” motto.
At The Providence Journal, his first promotion from copyboy was writing obituaries – not his favorite duty, but a step up.
One day in the middle of a wedding anniversary lunch with Loie, he began to wonder how the young folks would handle their obituaries. Loie had the answer: “Why don’t you write ours.” (After all, he was a professional.)
So the next morning he did, and of course Loie added a little sensitive editing.
That led to the second “Be Prepared” project: designing their gravestones and having them made – again, never leave editing to young folks. (Sorry, John!)
Loie’s stone engraved with I Love You was at the site the day of her funeral. JCQ hopes his will be there today. It needs some explanation. The etched message beside his signature is – more –, and JCQ himself explained what that meant in an interview with a biographer some years ago.
“In old newspaper lingo, when reporters typed their stories on paper, three or four paragraphs at a time, they marked each with the word – MORE – at the end of the page and sent it on to the city editor’s desk. When they finished their last page, it was marked with the number – 30 –.
“I hope St. Peter looks at my last page and writes – more –,” John said.
We can all join in saying amen to – more – for loieandjohn and that they are together enjoying a heavenly martini lunch, with no end, no – 30 –’s, for them or their memories, ever.
As a final editor’s note to JCQ, I’d just like to add a final comment.
There were a few sentiments he always shared when we parted ways, which he shared even last week, on our final day together, which I would like to return.
Thanks for the visit.
And give everyone up there a Loie hug for me.
(This piece has been edited for clarity and style. The sentiment attributed to Robert Frost was actually expressed by poet Robert Browning.)