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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Retired Journal Gazette columnist Frank Gray works with WANE-TV's Hanna Strong at the Community Harvest Food Bank commissary in 2015. His column about the experience was published Aug. 27, 2015.

  • Slater

Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:00 am

Frank Gray retires ... and we'll all miss him

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Frank Gray and I met for lunch just hours after he signed paperwork to officially retire after 35 years at The Journal Gazette.

Over chicken wings – mesquite for him, mild for me – I confessed that I'd cried when I heard that he'd announced his plans to co-workers on my day off. Our editors knew, but the rank-and-file didn't.

I choked up a little as I told him.

He looked at me and calmly replied: “Well, I wasn't going to work forever.”

That's Frank for you. No one would accuse him of being overly sentimental.

In fact, we often introduced him to interns and new hires as our resident curmudgeon. Or, for those more familiar with “Sesame Street,” think of him as our Oscar the Grouch.

Frank enjoyed that reputation, even played it up at times. He reveled in hearing “Frank!” from scandalized listeners after he'd made a particularly outrageous statement.

As former editor in chief Craig Klugman wrote when nominating Frank for a company-based award: “Frank grumbles, mumbles and sometimes swears. He complains about news sources, news stories and news editors. He does this while wandering around the newsroom looking for people to bitch to. I've heard him complain about teamwork, for crying out loud.”  

Klugman went on to say that despite his gruff exterior, Frank was adaptable, dependable and hardworking. When it came to performance, Frank was a stellar employee who would take on any story assigned to him ... or meet with anyone who showed up in the lobby wanting to speak with a reporter.

That nomination was from 2015. In the past two years, Frank became even more adaptable, dependable and hardworking as our newsroom needs evolved. He certainly didn't coast during his last weeks and months on the job.

And he didn't ask for a fuss about his retirement. In fact, he forbade it. No cake. No card. No clock for his mantel.

Speeches and compliments were completely out of the question.

His parting gift to me was some dusty candy that had been sitting on his desk for years. Yes, years. I found it sitting on my desk calendar when I returned to work after his seemingly sudden exit.

Frank had signed up for six weeks of vacation – the man who routinely lost vacation time because it accrued much faster than he took it. That's the day, the last day before this so-called vacation, when he started giving away knickknacks from his desk and finally confessed to co-workers that he probably wouldn't be back.

I wasn't here that day or I surely would have begged him to stay.

The newspaper lost a skilled columnist, reporter and editor when Frank retired. And that's significant. But the biggest loss is for the endless stream of people who called Frank in hopes of prompting him to write a column about their cause.

Sometimes, it would be to promote a fundraiser for someone with a mountain of medical bills. Other times, it would be to point out a government policy that hurt rather than helped people.

And, many times, it would be a hard-luck story that could be resolved only by calling in lawyers.

Despite his almost legendary impatience, Frank spent hours on the phone listening to those stories. He followed up with columns that promoted the fundraisers and pointed out the damaging policies.

When a column wasn't appropriate, Frank expressed sympathy and gave thoughtful advice.

He'd never admit it, but inside he's just as kind as they come.

Sherry Slater is a senior business reporter at The Journal Gazette.