Ten years or so ago, I assembled our three children for one of those family councils that I am sure they must ridicule, dread or both.
I told them that unlike my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, I was not going to die at my desk, or more accurately, continue to come to work every day until my health no longer allowed me to do so.
Somewhere around our mid-or late- 60s, I told them, Mary and I were going to retire, travel, spoil our grandchildren, do a little more volunteer work, read more books (and perhaps write one), and loaf, not necessarily in that order.
I told them that I had four newspapers that I would give them, and that if I had no takers, I intended to sell Frisbie Publishing Co. after The Polk County Democrat observed its 75th anniversary in 2006.
All three said they were happy in their present careers. Mary and I always encouraged our children to follow their dreams, and they were doing so.
I approached Derek Dunn-Rankin, majority owner of Suncoast Media Group and a long-time and highly-respected friend and newspaper publishing colleague. I told him that I would have some newspapers for sale before long, and that he was the only person I wanted to sell them to. I am not much of a bluffer.
When the time came, negotiations were quick and cordial — our lawyer said they were the most cordial of any business transaction he had handled — and Derek told me that Mary and I were welcome to stay on the staff for as long as we wanted.
“No,” I said, “That’s the way you feel today. But in 50 years or so, you or David (his son) will call me in and say, ‘S. L., back in 2006, you were pretty good, but you’re now 115 years old, and we think it’s time for you to retire.’
“So before we leave this office, we will have a firm agreement on how long Mary and I are actually going to stick around.”
“What do you suggest?” Derek asked. “How about a one-year contract,” I replied.
“How about three years and a seat on my board of directors,” Derek responded.
The deal was struck.
Over the ensuing years, as I looked in the mirror, I discovered that I was becoming more and more like my father, who died in 2004 at the age of 89.
My hair was becoming grayer, as his did; my waistline was becoming more prominent, as his did; and the facial wrinkles were showing up in the same places.
I was becoming my father, and I did not regret it. We were always close (okay, teenage years don’t count) and became closer after Mother’s death in 1989.
But unlike Dad, who retired four times, none of which took, my decision to retire as the odometer rolled over on 2010, two weeks before my 69th birthday, remained intact.
I accepted an invitation to continue writing my column twice a week, nothing more.
A couple of weeks ago, Jim Gouvellis, whom I recommended first to become my boss and later my successor, asked if I would take on the title of editorial page editor with the responsibility of writing one editorial a week, primarily on local subjects.
I accepted, with the stipulations that my twice-a-week column, after 50 years, would become once a week, and that the commitment — both his and mine — was for one year. I have just turned 72, and both seemed like good ideas.
The change became effective this week; editorial on Wednesday, column on Saturday.
What is the difference between a column and an editorial? Having written more than 5,000 columns and several hundred editorials, I am familiar with the distinction.
Both are opinions of the writer, but columns can be serious, humorous, sentimental, whimsical, and sometimes boring. Whatever they are is a reflection only on the columnist.
Editorials represent the position of the newspaper. Though primarily the viewpoint of the writer, they are subject to review by an editorial board, and in the final analysis, approval by the publisher and/or owner.
Editorials generally are written in a more serious tone, and on more serious topics.
A poorly written editorial is, to some degree, a reflection on the entire newspaper, or at least its management.
It is a challenge to which I look forward.
As a writer of editorials, and as a columnist, I hope to have the good grace to decide it’s time to quit writing them before someone else has to tell me.
Dad, the guy I am becoming more like each day, taught me that.
(S.L. Frisbie is retired, or as retired as he can be with his new title and responsibility. All those other retirement plans remain in place.)