Remembering my old neighbor Jack Lynch

Jack Lynch

During my blogging hiatus last week I received word that my old neighbor Jack Lynch passed away May 16 at the age of 83. Jack was a longtime reporter and editor for the Hibbing Daily Tribune, technically retired but still a fixture in the newspaper.

Kelly Grinnsteiner, editor of the Tribune, wrote a lovely story about Jack’s life, and his obituary is a fun read, too. Jack fit his generation’s print journalism type, at one time a chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking city editor — though gentler than the stereotype would call for.

As I said in Kelly’s story, Jack was smart and quirky, strange and kind. The only time he was ever visibly mad at me was when I was taking too long with the microfilm machine at the Hibbing Public Library.

The joke about knowledgeable people is that they have forgotten more about the history of a place than most people know. With Jack that was literally true. He knew so much about Hibbing that it was just pouring out his mouth haphazardly. A conversation with him might span five decades and include at least 50 details he was 90 percent sure about.

But if his stories wandered, his writing didn’t. From his busy, eccentric mind came clear, crisp writing that cut to the heart of matters. His columns were funny, edgy and often courageous.

Jack retired from the Hibbing Daily Tribune shortly before I started there. My wife Christina worked at the paper before me, and so she knew Jack well. When we were looking at houses to buy in Hibbing, we pulled up to a nice little two-story. She remarked that this house was 14 inches from Jack’s house.

Despite the close quarters, we bought the house and spent the salad days of our marriage as Jack’s neighbor. We could hear Jack’s TV through the walls and I can only imagine what he heard. In a short time, I received something akin to a battlefield promotion, becoming editor of the paper. Jack looked at this news with a quizzical eye, but was always kind to me despite my undeniable status as a punk kid.

Living so close, Jack was basically like a talking shrub in our backyard. We’d find him sitting on the stoop, staring at a pot and some dirt.

“What’s up, Jack?”

“I’m thinking about planting some tomatoes.”

“Just thinking about it, huh?”

“Hmmph.”

Jack didn’t take to retirement very well, so he just started coming back to the paper every day. At first it was social, but not long after I left the paper for academic pursuits, they decided to put him to work. So Jack was a daily proofreader. I stayed on as a columnist, so I doubtlessly benefited from his watchful eyes. Though not always.

“You had an error in your column last week,” Jack told me once.

“Shoot, thanks for catching it,” I said.

“Oh, I wasn’t there that day. I saw it in the paper.”

The Tribune gave Jack a title, “Staff Curmudgeon,” and his name appeared in the masthead that way through this past weekend. He wrote the “Years of Yore” page in the paper, a curated collection of marvelous stories pulled from the newspaper’s archives. Jack had a gift of finding something in history to match something in current events, often in a sly way. He also wrote a clever column that showed up on the editorial page time to time.

I can specifically credit Jack with inspiring me to write my current book project about Victor Power and the heady days of Hibbing’s early history. His history page highlighted many extraordinary themes in Power’s life. Jack’s eyes were tuned to the same details that excited me about this story.

Jack had some good ideas for the book when I talked to him. Our last conversation just over a month ago, a casual chat at the Hibbing Community College cafeteria, covered something he remembered that he thought might be of interest. It was a nice talk. We penciled out a schedule for the microfilm machine at the library this summer. (Never on Fridays; that’s his day). I remember assuming that Jack would be around to offer wisdom throughout the project.

Jack was an old school newspaperman. He’d be quick to point out what happens when you assume things. And then he’d chuckle and say something close to “Hmmmmph.”


Comments

  1. John Saccoman says:

    Jack was my copy editor at The Hibbing Daily Tribune when I was a reporter there in the early 1990s. Really a good guy. Great memory. Satirical wit. And just a bit mischievous. Starting in 1961, he was part of the Trib, on and off (mostly on) for 57 years. Think about that. RIP Jack. Humph!

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