Volume XVII, Issue 28 # July 9 - July 15, 2009

Letter from the Editor

Enough Said?

Not in these 800 weeks — or my lifetime

One’s always doing something else when big things happen.

I remember, as a college student, being so impressed at W.H. Auden’s pronouncement of that fact in “The Fall of Icarus.”

About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters;

how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along …

Of course, I say to that younger self and to the Old Master himself. We’re busy making our moments; it’s somebody else’s job — or some time else’s — to rank them, to say which of them was historic and to complain that we didn’t pay proper attention.

So it is that I can’t remember much about the afternoon Bill Burton — in whose honor I begin this letter, with his old-style formal one, rather than Bay Weekly’s preferred colloquial you — walked into fledgling New Bay Times’ first, shoebox office 16 years ago to offer himself as a columnist.

We must have been busy; newspapers always are, and busiest of all when deadline looms, as it probably did.

I do remember that he had to introduce himself. Back then my routine read was the Washington Post rather than Baltimore’s Evening Sun, and I didn’t usually read the sports page, except for the occasional dynamite horseracing and baseball story.

But part of the newspapering job is being a quick study, and by the time the door closed on the 66-year-old Burton, both General Manager Alex Knoll and I knew who he was. Indeed, lest we offended him, we’d offered to pay him two or three times what anybody else earned for a column — and about that much more than we could afford.

Of course he delivered far more than anybody else, in words and in value.

The vast rest of what Bill Burton delivered to Bay Weekly over the 16 years to come: That was a mountain still to be made.

Wouldn’t you know, when Bill Burton retired last week, I was on vacation, out navigating Chesapeake Bay and going goggle-eyed on passing landmarks — like target ships for airplane practice bombing — I’d learned about from editing his columns.

Not that I’m surprised.

I talk with Bill once or twice a week, because he’s an old-fashioned kind of guy who believes in talking with people, even editors, rather than dropping columns out of the blue. He usually calls me, and he always chats, always wants to know what’s new.

I’m not surprised because I know he’s drawing from the dregs of his amazing physical resilience. Thus, as he wrote in his final column last week, “a resurgence of energy cannot be depended upon.”

I’m not surprised, but I’m stunned. I can’t begin to take the measure of what his silence will mean to me, to you, to Bay Weekly.

I’m the editor. As Bill always told me, I was supposed to pull the plug when his writing lost its zest — unless death beat me to it. Now Bill Burton’s gone and silenced himself.

I’m not surprised, because now I know who Bill Burton is. Word by word over close to 800 columns, I’ve watched him build the mountain that all of us — his dear readers, he calls us — look up at with wonder and awe.

       Sandra Olivetti Martin
     editor and publisher