I learned that from him during my eight years at the Star-Telegram, seven of which were spent as the paper’s reader advocate.
On most Friday afternoons, a little before 4, I’d hear the crescendo of John’s buzzing motorized wheelchair approaching my office off the newsroom as he made his way down the hall. He would drop by before beginning the night shift on the copy desk where he worked parttime. And he would roll in with a big smile.
“John Dycus!” I’d exclaim. “How in the world are you?"
“I’m blessed,” he’d say, or some version of that. His wheelchair was a blessing. His equipment that helped him operate it was a blessing. His specially equipped van was a blessing. But, to me and his friends, his intellectual acumen, keen sense of justice and ethics and his hilarious sense of humor were and are something far more than blessings. They were exceptional gifts, and John showered us with them and the inspiration and encouragement they radiated. You see all those qualities at work in his wonderful website.
I looked forward to those brief Friday afternoon visits with John. We talked about all sorts of things –- what the readers had been saying that day, John's musings, the copy desk’s killer Friday-night copy flow laden with big Sunday stories moving late, credibility issues, plagiarism developments, and, until my wife died of breast cancer in 2005, he would always ask sincerely: “How’s your wife?”
After Dale’s death, I didn’t get to see John much. I was moved from the third-floor office to the second-floor editorial board office where editorial writing was added to my duties in response to my interest in learning that part of the craft. Friday afternoons were spent proofing weekend and Monday editorial and op-ed pages.
If someone asked how I was doing, I knew to say, as I’d learned from listening to and observing John: “I’m blessed,” and I meant it.
Later, when Andra came into my life in such a beautiful way, and we were married, John’s ovations poured forth whenever we bumped into each other.
“How are you?” he’d ask, smiling from ear to ear. “I’m blessed,” I’d say with joy. “You sure are!” he’d reply. John knows Andra and respects her skills as a communicator/writer and her integrity every bit as much as he admires her lovely charisma. And she holds him in mutual esteem.
I’m writing this because today I learned this morning that John will be honored Oct. 5 in Las Vegas with the national Society of Professional Journalists’ Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Professional Member Award. I just want to say, "Congratulations John."
There’s no more worthy honoree than John, a master freelance editor who retired in 1998 from a distinguished and honored 28-year career at the University of Texas at Arlington. Read about some of that here.
John has been a devoted member of SPJ for 36 years and has been a cornerstone for the Fort Worth chapter. Think “SPJ,” and “John Dycus” comes to mind. Organizer, fundraiser, promoter, champion -– he’s all those things for SPJ, and he’s always there when needed, which is often.
I started wondering about a couple of things as I thought about SPJ honoring John. What attracted him to journalism and what has kept him in the craft?
I was embarrassed to admit to myself that I’d never asked him. So I did. I e-mailed him with some questions for this blog. He called, and we talked for a while.
John told me he’d taken a journalism class during his senior year, 1964-65, at Paschal High School in Fort Worth. His teacher, he said, was the inimitable Margaret Caskey, a brilliant teacher who wheeled around “in a big ol’ wide-mouth green Buick.”
He remembers only one story he wrote for the school newspaper: what life was like for someone in a wheelchair during those frantic minutes in between bells when moving from one class to the next. The photographer, John said, shot pictures from John’s view.
He enjoyed that class but didn’t major in journalism when he entered UTA. He was advised that a career in accounting would be something he could do physically as well as intellectually. “That wouldn’t be too popular a view these days,” he said. But he agreed and was graduated with a degree in accounting.
After graduation, he was job-searching when he received an interesting offer from UTA’s legendary Student Publications Director Dorothy Estes. She wanted to know if John would be interested in a staff position with her operation.
He took the offer and grew into the beloved, respected Shorthorn adviser and then associate director of student publications. That’s how John got into journalism.
“It was something I could do,” he said. But he also reveled in the freedoms of professional journalism, the craft and issues, and the captivating colleagues. I can attest that when journalism gets into one’s blood, there’s no substitute or antidote, assuming burnout or some other curse doesn’t take its toll.
John and I share many colleagues’ concerns about threats to journalism -– increasing disrespect for journalists out there in our politically tormented world filled with more propaganda and less truth than ever, newsroom morale challenges in shouldering increased workloads from staff cuts while wondering whether and where the axe will fall next, the for-profit model’s impact on quality, etc., etc.
Ah, but when all of that weighs on us, when specters swarm around us, we lift up our hearts. Times may be hard, daily struggles may be tough, but we say in unison and with conviction: “I’m blessed.”
Any thoughts you'd like to share?