Randy Wilson, my former boss at the Arizona Daily Sun, passed away last weekend at age 65. Here’s something I wrote in remembrance of him.
REMEMBERING RANDY WILSON
Quite simply, Randy Wilson was the pulse of the Arizona Daily Sun newsroom, a voice of reason in the Flagstaff community and a fierce fighter for freedom of the press and the role of the press to seek the truth and hold those in power accountable. His tireless work ethic, relentless pursuit of stories and common decency were hallmarks of his 22-plus years at the paper.
He was a demanding boss, but he always showed that he cared; and even if you didn’t like 1-2 of his story suggestions, there were always 3-4 others that were obviously worth pursuing ASAP.
I can think of several times when Randy clipped out a sports column from The New York Times and he thought there was a local angle that could be gleaned from the NYT’s theme. Such as: A column the esteemed George Vecsey wrote about a trio of Navajo women’s volleyball players from Arizona who were competing for an obscure college in Long Island, New York. He read nearly everything and often handed out ideas to staff reporters. Even if an idea was something to include in a notebook or as a tidbit or column fodder, Randy always had his eyes and ears open for news.
Randy valued enterprising coverage and seeking out original material. Indeed, he was delighted when then-Flagstaff resident Jack Daniels, who has been called the world’s greatest running coach, agreed to pen a series of guest columns for the Daily Sun.
Starting in 2005, I pitched the ideas to Jack, and he filed a column based on the basic premise/theme — for free. Jack wanted to educate the public about fitness and running and his experiences in leading running legends and young students and college athletes. Randy, of course, was a proponent of more running and outdoor coverage — the more, the better. There were times when it seemed over the top, but he knew the community valued its outdoor sports.
He understood how busy we were, but so was he. We had a small staff, but packed the paper every day with local news. He never wanted us to load the news sections with only wire stories.
He didn’t take shortcuts, didn’t try to mail it in in order to have a three-day weekend or a few extra hours in front of the TV.
In my nearly five years at the Daily Sun (late August 2001-June 2006), Randy was an omnipresent figure at the paper, providing the example for the entire staff. He was there. He worked, nights, weekends and holidays. And maybe he found (a little) time to sleep.
In addition to having a remarkable work ethic, Randy made sure that when staff left the paper, they were given a fun farewell party. At a small paper with high staff turnover, this could be a never-ending chore, but he made it quirky, memorable and unique each time — usually a lunch for the departing person. And there were old Arizona Highway magazines from yesteryear given to the person on the move and other little items. He took the time to make an effort.
Randy defended his reporters when their integrity or alleged bias was under attack. And when we made mistakes, he pushed us to work smarter and not make those same mistakes again.
And he used the forum of the daily editorial to showcase all manner of topics, as publisher Don Rowley describes below, and even sports made the editorial from time to time. I recall him once highlighting the spirited environment of the state high school basketball tournament held in Flagstaff, citing a phrase (“February frenzy”) I had used in a column about it. That was a sign of respect, but also a reminder that he paid attention to what everybody on the staff was doing (even the interns, whom he coached and encouraged to tackle difficult assignments).
His death saddens me, but I know that he made a giant impact in the community, mentored countless journalists and helped set the career path for so many in this profession. And that is something to remember forever.
He was the perfect fit for the Arizona Daily Sun as managing editor. His demeanor and intelligence and ability to sift through bureaucratic B.S. and lies to get the real story were always on display.