EDITOR (and friend) EXTRAORDINAIRE
By Mellissa Martinez
In 2008, after completing my master’s degree, I came up with the crazy idea of writing my own language column. My cover letter and proposal to the COURIER editor included three sample articles and several ideas for names, including: Word on the Street, City Talk, and Lex in the City. After months of no response, I figured the paper was not interested.
A year later, when my childhood friend, Kathryn Dunn, was promoted, she called from out of the blue to tell me that she had found my proposal buried in the desk of the former editor…and, did I still want the gig? She explained that most of my sample articles felt like academic papers. In a matter of minutes, she delivered a succinct tutorial on journalism: shorter paragraphs, no intext citations and stronger openers.
The rest is history. Despite a few breaks, I have tremendously enjoyed my connection to the community for the last 11 years. If I ever struggled for a topic, I would call Kathryn who reminded me that she liked to keep the paper “Claremont focused.” She would then catch me up on local politics or tell me about the recent city meeting hoping to spur an idea. It often did. My column on the Barrio, Claremont trees, and Claremont street names are just a few that came from Kathryn’s inspiration.
My takeaway from Kathryn as a boss was that she never saw a task as impossible: if I couldn’t come up with an idea, she’d brainstorm with me; if there was a misprint, she was quick to issue an apology; if there was a controversial story, she took the blame. I have spent countless afternoons watching Kathryn bite her bottom lip, pencil tucked behind her ear, solving a COURIER-related problem. She attended council meetings, city events, debates and all other city-related events without ever mentioning the hours. It was part of the job.
My lesson from Kathryn as a friend is that she was steadfast and understanding. The few times my writing halted (Covid-19, the death of my friend Joyce, and the birth of Felix) she didn’t push me. Rather, she had faith that I would come back and always respected the fact that our friendship came first. If a reader asked her “Where’s Lex?” she always reassured, “don’t worry, she’ll be back.”
The word friendship comes from the old English freondscipe, meaning “mutual liking and regard.” Kathryn’s regard for me is what got me this position at the COURIER. Her regard for me inspired me to keep writing and gave me the confidence to broach a variety of subjects. My regard for her prompts me to share this simple truth with my readers: I would not have had the chance to write “Lex in the City” without Kathryn and I would have probably not continued this long without her subtle guidance.
In a small town chock full of intelligent, thoughtful people, there were those who agreed with Kathryn’s editorial choices and those who didn’t (often flipping depending on the issue). She always heard from both camps and was not impervious to criticism. Her loyalty to the paper, however, helped her through the worst of it.
A description of the first attestation of the loyalty oath comes from an 1897 excerpt of Century Dictionary: “Allegiance is a matter of principle, and applies especially to conduct; the oath of allegiance covers conduct only. Loyalty is a matter of both principle and sentiment, conduct and feeling; it implies enthusiasm and devotion.” Kathryn has always been the most loyal defender of the COURIER and the paper has been lucky to have her at the helm for the last decade.
Every Christmas at the COURIER staff party, Peter reads a list of the year’s accomplishments. There’s always celebration and laughter. National awards, letters of support from the community, and even setbacks are regarded with humility and respect. Kathryn’s themed gift exchange is met with humor and it has always been clear that her staff loves and enjoys her direct, funny, intelligent, cutting, perfectly-timed personality.
I know that they’ll miss her dearly and they must be feeling the same shock that she is. There is really no new way to describe the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. I am convinced that the expression “2020” will take on its own idiomatic meaning in years to come. When everything goes wrong, future generations are likely say some version of “oh, the party was a disaster! A total 2020!”
Kathryn and I will no doubt take my “2020” coinage to new levels and overuse it well into the next decades. Thankfully for me, I know that I can count on her friendship and loyalty for whatever life throws our way—the good and bad of it all.