I slid into a pew next to my dad at Corpus Christi Parish in West Pittston last Sunday, perched myself on a kneeler and folded my hands. With Billy Watson’s words from a few hours earlier still holding my thoughts hostage, I silently prayed and then sat back. I looked at my father, offered him a hug and kiss and delivered the news.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m going to just say it. John Watson passed away.”
He replied with disbelief, as expected. And by the first hymn, we were both in tears.
My father took me through the front door of the Sunday Dispatch when I was 16 years old. He asked John Watson, the editor at the time, to have faith in me, to nurture me and to trust that I would not disappoint him.
“My daughter is looking to pursue a career in journalism,” he said. “She contributes to Pittston Area’s High School news and I know she is young, but given the proper instruction, she may be of some assistance to the paper.”
John looked at my father, smiled, then looked at me.
“This is a great place for young people who seriously want to break into the profession to grow and learn,” he said. “Be here at 9 a.m. on Saturday and we’ll get started.”
I was stunned. I was ecstatic. I was terrified. But at 9 a.m. that Saturday - and every Saturday that followed for the next 13 years - I was there.
John upheld his end of the agreement sealed by a handshake with my father and kept me around, even though I hung up on his father “Pidge” while learning the phone system on that first Saturday shift.
Upon returning from my first assignment, a Jenkins Township council meeting, I sat at a desk and began to compose a story with a pencil and paper. John emerged from his office, walked squarely around the desk, took the pencil from my hand and said, “We don’t write here.”
I was puzzled.
He spun my chair around to face the computer and said, “Start typing.”
I called him Mr. Watson for the first six months until he gave me a grin one afternoon and said, “That’s my dad, Kimberly. Call me Chick.”
I watched Chick, emulated him and, to this day, remain in awe of his literary brilliance. He introduced me to his father and Dispatch publisher, Pidge Watson, as well as to the staff at the time, some of whom included Michael Cotter, Ed Ackerman, Dick Cosgrove, Kathleen Berlew, Ken Feeney and Chick’s beloved brother, Billy, aka “Cowboy.”
Chick made sure I did more than “shadow” them. At the Sunday Dispatch, you learned through action. Get the story. Write it clearly, accurately and with precision. Prepare it for production and then get your hands dirty to see it printed. It was old school. It was life’s school.
John had two young daughters of his own at home and now he had one just a few years older at the office. His decision to hire me was selfless, compassionate and, for both of us, I’m sure, occasionally frustrating. For me, it was life-altering. Chick charted a course and quietly navigated my life both professionally and personally. He helped me climb an employment ladder from reporter to staff writer to managing editor. He taught me to care deeply for my community, respect my environment, pay attention to political climates, act, write and speak honorably and be truthful to myself and others.
He made me a better person.
Our days as colleagues came to a close when Chick retired in 1999. But to be loved by Chick was to be loved for life. Out of sight, but never out of mind or heart and when my husband and I visited John in Colorado in October 2010, it was truly joyful.
His generous spirit was still soaring and his co-workers in Beaver Creek, Colorado, both revered and embraced him. He had a pure and decent respect for humanity. The pauper was no different from the prince. He loved people, meeting them, befriending them, debating with them and sharing his life with them.
Social media helped us connect quickly and conveniently. He moved to Seattle where, in true “Chick” fashion, he settled into the glorious role of “grandfather.” Facebook was a platform for him to engage in a daily dialogue with family and friends. The conversations were sometimes colorful but always inspiring.
When he returned to Pittston in the summer of 2011 to give his daughter Juli’s hand in marriage, I was blessed to share one more evening, one more meal, one more toast. Sadly, I let too many days pass before traveling to the Pacific Northwest. And now, I must wait a bit longer than expected to see him again.
Until then, I will live as he did. Out of sight but never out of mind and heart.
I cannot see you, Chick, but I say to you, with the greatest humility, thank you for giving me a second family, the Sunday Dispatch family. Thank you for giving me the career of my lifetime. Thank you for nurturing in me the ability to honor you this Sunday morning on the pages of the newspaper you fostered and cherished.
Kimberly Donnelly Rebovich is a former managing editor of the Sunday Dispatch.