Tuesday, July 31, 2012
When I first read the great piece that our Jackie Chesser & Joe Payne wrote about Russ' life last week, I did a double-take at that retirement date. 2007? It couldn't be. It seemed like just last year we were joking around on break, but I guess it's been almost half a decade since he's sauntered these halls.
Other writers here are far more qualified to talk about Russ and what he meant to all of us here at the paper. He and I never worked closely together. We weren't even on the same floor. But I can safely tell you one thing: If it hadn't been for Russ Scott, you wouldn't be reading my words here every week.
My first dealings with the Dispatch/Argus came many years before I actually worked here. Right out of college, I'd temporarily made a name for myself as a local promoter of raves -- those underground all-night dance parties that were all the rage for a hot minute or two in the mid-90's. As such, I got to experience fifteen minutes of fame as a newsmaker rather than a writer, and one of those benefits was an interview request from Sean Leary, the former entertainment editor of this very paper.
Through that interview, Sean and I became fast friends through our shared love of pop culture, off-color humor, and a HUGE amount of jealousy on my part. My life revolved around music, TV, movies, books, theatre, and offering my strong opinions of all of the above. So did Sean's -- but he got to earn a living at it. All I did was irritate my friends.
A few years later, raves weren't paying the bills and I needed to get a "real" job. That was when I noticed an opening in the Dispatch's advertising department. Despite having ZERO experience, I somehow got the gig, and sixteen years later, I'm still here.
I loved my advertising job (and still DO), but the jealousy never went away. I still dreamt of a day that I could try my hand at writing, and when Dave Barry's retirement left us without a humor column, I decided it was time to strike.
I went home, wrote up a couple sample columns, and submitted them uninvited. A few days later, I got an encouraging yet definitive rejection letter. My writing showed promise, but there just wasn't a place for me. I couldn't exactly blame them -- after all, I was just the weirdo kid from the advertising floor who still dressed like a college student. A few months later I tried again, and was met with the same response.
I was bummed and put the idea to bed like so many other pipe dreams. It was around that time that I found myself on break one day with Russ Scott. At the time, Russ was working on syndicating his own column on his great love of poker playing. We got to talking about writing and I told him about my failed efforts at crafting a column.
"Oh, I wouldn't give up," he told me. "Everybody gets rejections. Did you ever try submitting those samples to the Leader?"
I'd never thought about that. At the time, The Leader was our ground-breaking weekly paper that went out to the Iowa half of the Quad Cities, and it had its own dedicated editors and writers. I sped upstairs and threw together a hurried e-mail Michael Romkey, then editor of the Leader. It was less than an hour later that I got the phone call. Six days later, my first ever column debuted. Like most awesome things ahead of their time, the Leader eventually closed up shop -- but by then, my column had also been picked up by the Dispatch/Argus. I wasn't privy to that meeting, but I heard later that one of my biggest advocates was Russ.
I credit a lot of people for allowing me to come into your homes every week -- Sean Leary was the inspiration, Mike Romkey was the risk-taker... but Russ Scott was the catalyst that stopped me from giving up, and I owe the guy SO much. But that was the thing with Russ -- he was always around to lend a hand or ear no matter who you were.
I don't know what it was about the guy, but he could put even the most socially awkward person instantly at ease. Maybe it was just because we shared so many breaks together, but he and I struck up a friendship early on that I'll carry with me for all my days.
Behind that easy-going smile, though, was a consummate journalist. In his early days working at the Herald-Dispatch in his hometown of Huntington, WV, he was lead reporter when a plane crash in 1970 claimed the lives of nearly the entire football team at his alma mater, Marshall College. The tragedy was eventually turned into the movie "We Are Marshall," and when Russ was invited to the premiere of the film in Huntington, his resulting stories for the Dispatch -- if you're a QCOnline digital subscriber, look them up from December of 2006 -- are among the greatest pieces of journalism you could ever hope to read.
The last time I saw Russ Scott was last March at the visitation of Brian Nelson, another Dispatch colleague taken from us WAY too soon. Despite the somber occasion, Russ looked good and was exactly the familiar and friendly face I needed to see during such a rotten time.
Like I said, others can eulogize him far better than I. There are those who knew him as a co-worker, a boss, a colleague, a father, a grandfather, and one heck of a poker player. I simply knew him as one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure to talk to -- and if there's a better way to be remembered, I'd like to hear it. I just hope one day there's an extra seat for me at his poker table.