It was 1985 and the Observer-Dispatch production director said from behind his desk, “congratulations, you have the job.” As if on cue, a man walked into the office and sat next to me while the director gave me the particulars. That man didn’t say a word until many minutes later when the director said “this is Red Foley, your boss.”
He reached out to shake my hand and in a calm, low tone simply stated, “It’s nice to meet you.” I would soon find out that this was his style – at least in front of the big boss.
Donald “Red” Foley worked at the O-D for 40 years during the classic years of newspapers but amid much change. He was there during the years of lead type and Linotype machines, and thrived through the many facets of the newspaper’s digital transition.
You had to be a hard worker to make it through those times but you had to be even tougher to manage the many personalities amid relentless deadlines. The O-D building was rife with workers and Red had many under his trusting but watchful eyes.
His years of experience commanded respect from those who worked for him and around him – although he never had to push that point. He simply gave you directives and you followed his lead. When he saw that you could be trusted to stand alone, he gave you space to grow.
But it wasn’t long before I saw the real Red Foley under the manager’s shell. He made his department a fun one, unexpectedly injecting humor to calm nerves or to just get a conversation going.
His laugh was hearty and contagious and I soon learned if I got him to chuckle long enough his eyes would tear up, making others laugh even more. With constant deadline pressure on all of us, that type of relief was welcomed.
When I saw Red’s obituary in the newspaper Tuesday morning a tear of a different type came to my eye – I guess turnabout is fair play.
I last saw him at a restaurant with his wife, Annette. It had been more than a decade but it was as if no time had passed. We talked about old times and new, and I left expecting I would see him again soon.
We always do.
I believe your first boss makes an indelible mark on the worker you become. I was lucky enough to work for Red long enough to absorb some of his work ethic and dedication — a goal that’s hard to match.
Times have changed at the O-D and the station where Red once worked and the closet where he hung his jacket no longer are in use, but I still expect him to be there when I pass by. In those early days, Red would always tell me to close-up shop as he left each night and I always would say the same thing. “I’ve got it, see you tomorrow.”
I won’t be able to say that again but I can carry his influence forward keeping his memory alive in the place he worked for 40 years.
Ron Johns is the executive editor for the Observer-Dispatch. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org