Editing Excellence – Remembering My Father

Forest stream photo“As a journalist in a newsroom, I never worried about how to write. I just did it. I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline.”

These words from Alexis Grant jumped out at me this morning. I’d left her blog up on my screen when I turned off the monitor late last night, intending to write her a comment, but today the words triggered a whole new chain of thought – about blogging and about my father, Wallace Lomoe, who was Managing Editor and later Executive Editor of The Milwaukee Journal. He inspired my love of writing, but more importantly perhaps, he passed on the perfectionistic standards that make me a ruthless editor of my own work. It’s appropriate to pay tribute to him on Father’s Day.

But first, about the blogging. Alexis was writing about the differences between journalistic writing and tackling an entire book, but “I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline” is an apt description of my approach to blogging till now. A phrase or a few scattered ideas begin percolating in my mind. Sometimes I jot down some notes in my little blue blog book, but more often I sit down at the computer and lo and behold, the words begin to flow onto the screen. Basically, it’s the same way I go about writing a novel, except that with the novel, there’s an overall story arc that keeps me pointed in a more or less coherent direction. In blogging, I’ve been disregarding the bigger picture, and I’ve decided that has to change. But more on that in tomorrow’s post – today’s is about my father.

Wallace Lomoe was born in northern Wisconsin in 1898. In his youth, he

Library of Congress photo

Library of Congress photo

dreamed of writing The Great American Novel. In search of background and inspiration, he spent most of the1920’s living the archetypal hobo’s life, riding the rails and doing odd jobs throughout the country. By 1928, he was back home, working as a reporter at The Superior Telegram, where two significant events occurred. He met my mother, Viola Wick, also a cub reporter at the Telegram. They married soon after, and as was all too typical back then, she abandoned her career to become a wife and mother. And Calvin Coolidge spent a summer fishing in northern Wisconsin. The Telegram assigned my father to cover the President’s vacation, both because of his writing skills and because he was an ace fisherman and northwoods guide. His stories got picked up by the Associated Press, and The Milwaukee Journal offered him a job.

In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks from City Editor and Managing Editor to Executive Editor. Known as “the bear,” he inspired respect and fear in his underlings. Once a reporter who had just won a Pulitzer Prize came to him for a raise, and he refused, saying, “The Pulitzer has nothing to do with your salary.” Along the way, he abandoned his dream of writing The Great American Novel and ultimately destroyed a lengthy manuscript that would at the very least have made a marvellous memoir. Evidently the book didn’t live up to his own exacting standards.

My father’s memory lives on in the annals of journalism. Googling his name this morning, I found 273 hits, including one in a book I hadn’t known existed: Joe McCarthy and the Press by Edwin R. Bayley. My father was a staunch enemy of the witch-hunting senator, as evidenced in the following quote:

“We think McCarthy is a sideshow barker in dealing with the press,” said Wallace Lomoe, managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal. “First he drops a hint. Then he gives out a name. Third, he gives his version of what the name said or did. And the press carries all three.”

I’ve never seen this quote before, but discovering it delights me this morning, when I devoured our local Sunday paper in under an hour while bemoaning its pitiful contents. My father died in 1975, but if by some miracle he were reincarnated, what would he think of the state of journalism these days? He’d probably be shaking off the gloom and doom and focusing on mastering the internet, just as I am today.

The Milwaukee Journal merged with the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1995. The Journal was an afternoon paper, fiercely independent, whereas the Sentinel was a morning paper, part of the Hearst empire. In our family, “Hearst” was almost as dirty a word as “McCarthy.” The Journal Sentinel now publishes mornings, and the Journal’s glory days are long gone.

13 thoughts on “Editing Excellence – Remembering My Father

    • Hi Helen,
      The book was by Ed Bayley, a reporter who’d worked under my father. I remember him, and believe he may have ended up at the New York Times.

      What’s fascinating is that the Internet makes more and more of these sources available, and they’re also apparently being reprinted. This book, “Joe McCarthy and the Press,” was published in 1981, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ve Googled my father’s name many times, and this source never showed up before, but now I can order it from B&N or Amazon. It’s from the University of Wisconsin Press.

      My father was also in a footnote in an H.L. Mencken book, and that’s actually the source I was looking for yesterday, but this time it didn’t show up. The Internet is a miraculous but mysterious thing.

    • Thanks, Alexis. I’m probably going to mention you in today’s blog too – if I ever get around to writing it! I have to cook dinner first.

      By the way, congratulations on your acceptance at a writers’ colony in Georgia. You gave us a hint over the weekend and said you were going to post about it today. Forget the name, but I went to the website and it looks fabulous!

    • Thanks, Therese. I’m at least going to try to get down what I remember about him in a memoir for my family, but I don’t see myself writing that kind of book – too much else to do! I will, however, post more Joe McCarthy stories one of these days.

      My mother deserves credit for my love of writing too. I posted about her and included a poem in my blog on June 4th. My dedication in Eldercide reads:
      “For the aides of ElderSource, Inc., whose compassionate care helped inspire this book, and for my parents, Wallace and Vi Lomoe, who bequeathed me their love of writing.”

  1. Sen. Joe McCarthy not only exploited print journalists, he exploited early TV. Neither medium has learned much since then about how to handle loudmouth pols. Julie, your father was one of the few exceptions.
    Meanwhile, the folks who cover politics professionally on the Internet are doing a much better job all around than either TV or print media. The best are up to the minute, reasonably accurate, clever, opinionated, and knowledgeable. I really like Elizabeth Benjamin’s Daily Politics blog (http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/) at the Daily News. I go to her blog first to find out what’s happening in the NYS Senate. Other favorites of mine include The Albany Project (http://www.thealbanyproject.com), which is liberal and very opinionated, and Capital Confidential (http://blogs.timesunion.com/capitol/) from the Times Union.

    • Good thoughtful comment, Robb. I hope you’ll get into some serious blogging of your own one of these days!

    • Thanks, Stephen. I don’t see myself doing that – too lazy to do all the research! But maybe I can incorporate his memory into my next book in the Kooperskill series. The founder of the Compassionate Care home care agency, Paula Rhodes, is the character I most identify with, and in the book following Eldercide, I’m going to get more into her bipolar issues. In a manic episode, she can phone the New York Times at 3am about the significance of her father – as I once did myself! More about that in a future blog.

  2. Hi:

    I came across this while researching your family in an effort to locate someone to whom a picture of your Aunt Alice Lomoe Mitchell could be returned. I wasn’t able to find if she had children, but thought you or someone in your family may be interested in it. My friend has a blog where she displays forgotten old photos she has acquired in antique stores. Her mission is to return as many photos as possible to a family member that will treasure them. You may visit her blog at:

    http://forgottenoldphotos.blogspot.com/2010/04/photo-number-172.html

  3. Julie, I can not believe I’ve never searched the web about my grandfather nor found your website.I,too, am incredibly proud of my grandfather’s approach to not only jounalism and politics but to his life. He died when I was only eleven however I have come to value much about him through the stories my father has passed onto me. I’m almost relieved he’s not around during the days of Fox “News”. Hope to see you this fall. Lauren

    • Hi Lauren, great to hear from you and thanks so much for commenting. I take it you’re coming to NYC this fall? Let’s keep in touch and try to get together.

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