The phone calls took place several days a week, almost always around 10 a.m. Sometimes we talked about that day’s paper, or something that happened in the office the night before. Most of the time we looked ahead to games or stories that should be covered.
The impetus for the conversations was always the same. Tom Renner and I were afflicted with the same malady: the inability to leave work at the office.
Unlike the staff writers, Tom was unrecognizable to most because almost all of his time was spent in the Advocate newsroom, first as a copy editor, then as assistant sports editor and, for the past year and a half, as sports editor.
But in so many unapparent ways, Tom was well connected to the community. He was the reason there were local stories in the sports section seven days a week. He was the reason for the increased football coverage in the fall. He was the reason for innovations like a redesign of the front page.
And, after our staff was reduced from seven people to five and he was named sports editor, he was the one who spent many of his free hours during the day working on stories so the breadth of coverage wouldn’t suffer.
Tom became one of my closest friends well before he became sports editor, and that made it even more painful last Wednesday night when he learned that his position was being eliminated. We learned about 8 p.m. that this would be the last night we would ever work together. It was one of the toughest shifts I’ve ever had.
The newspaper industry is contracting across the country, and while we all read about the state of the economy, this is the first time it really hit home for me.
Since many only recognized Tom from his head shot that accompanied his weekly golf column, here are some other things you should know about him:
— Tom had a deep passion and commitment to the Stamford sports scene. Because the writers are out in the field, we have the advantage of interacting with the public and getting many of the accolades (or the complaints). Tom, unfortunately because of his position, was shielded from the many compliments that were both offered and deserved.
— Tom is one of the calmest people I have ever met, which was a big advantage when dealing with a staff of diverse personalities. Yet Tom had the ability to carry out his duties as a department head without you ever feeling like he was your boss. He was the same person as sports editor he had been before assuming the position.
— Tom was always looking for new ways to make improvements to the sports section. He would start each day and ask himself one question: How can I do more with less?
The success of those efforts was apparent in each day’s paper. And while that philosophy will not waver going forward, it will be made that much more difficult without Tom driving the ship.
I know Tom and I will stay close. And I am betting that we will still have many more of our 10 a.m. conversations. We just won’t be talking about the same things.
And like seeing Tom every day, I am going to miss that more than I can express.