Backed with a polished portfolio and a steadfast confidence, I was prepared for my first professional job interview in the summer of 1999 at the Berkshire Eagle, a little newspaper nestled in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

What I wasn’t?

On time.

After badly misjudging the time it would take to roll through Western Massachusetts, particularly Berkshire County, I arrived at the Eagle a good 15 minutes late for an interview with then-sports editor Brian Sullivan.

An impeccable first impression this was not.

Brian, a stout New York sports fan, met me at the lobby and smiled.

Before I could apologize for the tardiness, of which there really wasn’t a good excuse, the Pittsfield lifer stated, “I don’t mind you being late. But being a Red Sox fan? That’s the part I’m going to find tough to get over.”

He then extended a hand.

“I’m Brian. Nice to meet you, come on in.”

I knew then that Brian and I would get along just fine. I dug the humor and his easygoing nature that served him — and others around him, for that matter — well in the business.

Brian offered me the sports reporter job a few days later and assigned me a golf tournament before I formally accepted.

Classic.

We agreed on a start-date and he closed the conversation with this gem: “Oh, hey, don’t be late this time.”

He laughed. So did I — but not quite as hard.

I liked the guy and quickly respected him as a quiet-yet-firm leader who understood the importance of covering youth and scholastic sports.

And cover them we did. From youth tournaments to high school basketball and field hockey, we did it all. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always done.

“They are the backbone of this paper,” he once said. “Them and the Yankees.”

Covering professional sports is part of the sports reporter lure. Taking in the press boxes at Fenway Park. At Gillette Stadium. At the Garden.

It was at the Eagle, however, where I learned the importance of covering youth sports.

“The community can get the Red Sox and my Yankees anywhere,” he would say. “They can only get Wahconah (high school in Dalton, Mass.) here.”

So we covered Wahconah and all the high schools tucked away in beautiful Berkshire County. We became familiar faces in the community, trusted faces. We were, in a lot of ways, part of the community (for better or worse, depending on one’s press perspective). Along the way, Brian stressed the need to be fair, to be honest.

“Just write what you see,” he loved to say before I’d embark on an assignment.

It didn’t take long before a trip to historic Wahconah Park in Pittsfield — complete with its decades-old wooden grandstand — became more enjoyable than any trip to Fenway.

Today, I miss Brian. He died Tuesday in his Pittsfield home. He was 62 years young. No cause of death was reported, but he had his share of health issues over the last decade.

I suppose it was just his time.

He leaves an indelible mark not just in his community but in the profession as well.

Throughout our journeys, people enter and exit our lives, both the personal and professional ones. Some leave palpable marks, others not so much.

Brian was the former.

As editors go, he “got it.”

He was tough yet kind. He was fair, knowledgeable and deeply cared about the communities his paper served. He valued teamwork, knew how to motivate and was a calming influence — shining characteristics for any profession, really. He also knew how to handle criticism, an essential to any profession as well.

I’ve worked for an abundance of editors in a variety of newsrooms throughout New England since graduating from the University of Maine in 1999.

I learned plenty from them all and pocketed a little of each with every move. With some, I stashed away their knowledge of grammar, story structure and other technical intricacies of the job.

With Brian, I took the good stuff. The stuff that matters. The stuff that makes an impact.

Bill Stewart — 621-5618

[email protected]

Twitter: @billstewartmtm


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