I knew that look Jack gave me last summer.
It was his newsman-to-newsman look, one I’ve seen from him from time-to-time over the years.
“I got it in the can already,” he leaned in and said.
What? I asked him.
“My last column. It’ll publish after I go.”
I snort-laughed, as he knew I would. No, I wouldn’t accuse him of being morbid. Or of having a defeatist attitude about his health.
He knew I’d see this as an editor — and compliment his forethought, industry and taking ownership over saying goodbye in his own words.
I enjoyed his words immensely, as did a number of us.
Jack was one of those Renaissance men with enough jobs, interests, hobbies and talents to fill up Santa’s bottomless sack.
He didn’t dabble though. Or do things halfway. Or tire quickly.
Seemed to me that he brought the full force of his personality to all of his pursuits, be they negotiating a commercial contract or collecting jars with faces on them.
Our meeting was happenstance, or so it seemed.
I’d carpet-bombed state newsrooms with resumes, asking for my first full-time reporting job. One landed at the Manistee News Advocate, and the callback came quick with a human resources person on the phone confirming the spelling of my last name.
“It’s Batdorff? Two fs? That’s a good name to have around here.”
She then asked me a series of more-normal-type questions about my reporting experience, and set up an in-person interview with the editor for the weekend.
She closed with, “You should really call our owner, Jack Batdorff.”
What? This was pre-Internet, and I didn’t know any other Batdorffs than my own family. I also knew no one in the newspaper world, much less owners of things. But Batdorff isn’t a name like “Smith” or “Jones.”
So I called Jack Batdorff, a complete stranger. And between the two of us, we walked back our lineage to where we met, three generations before in brothers who’d lost touch. We were cousins. Then we met in person. And I couldn’t believe the universe would let someone like Jack exist — who looked so much like my dad it was shocking — without tearing a hole in the time-space continuum, but there he was.
Our meeting sparked a gradual re-connection of Batdorffs over the years, a process that has brought my family a lot of joy. Our eerie resemblances go beyond our Gallic noses, and love of animals and good food.
Newspaper ink brought us together. Both my sister (a photographer) and I (reporter) chose this path, thinking ourselves pioneers.
Oh the folly.
Jack, at one time, owned two dailies — the Manistee News Advocate and the Big Rapids Pioneer, plus several weeklies and other publications. He knew the business right-side in, and inside out. He’d delivered papers on bicycle, sold ads, shot pictures, typeset in hot lead. He’d covered the crime beat, and worked for several other newspapers before circling back to the family business. He was a legacy, as his dad worked in newspapers, as did his brother, and uncle (who owned the Record-Eagle from 1917-1972).
They say ink runs in the veins. Even distantly related ones.
Even after Jack and his son sold the business to Hearst, he and I loved talking shop and speaking the lingo. His love of news, hard work, and the daily miracle reflected my own.
I got the notice Jack’s last “Reflections” column published yesterday, and had a little cry in the break room.
His last column, as the many others he’d written in his 82 years, was true to form. Contemplative, funny, and sincere.
Knowing the “man with the sickle” circled patiently overhead prompted him to review his life’s trail, and face the mistakes that never moved to the right side of the ledger. He weighed out his life on earth — and left it last weekend grateful for the chance he had to make a difference.
Our collision 20 years ago made a big difference in mine.