Of all the colleagues with whom I worked during my 37 years in daily journalism, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who fit the description of “ink-stained wretch” better than a fellow who has just retired from a newspaper where we both once worked.
His name is Dan Wallach. He is a native of New York state. He graduated from the University of Arizona and ended up in Beaumont, Texas, where he worked at the Beaumont Enterprise for more than three decades.
Dan represents — to me — the individual who is committed fully to covering his community, of telling the myriad stories that give that community its life, its personality.
What’s more, he is unafraid to reveal the community’s scars and to press relentlessly the individuals who are responsible for inflicting those wounds.
He has just entered my world … of retirement. I welcome him gladly and wish him well, but I am absolutely certain that journalism as we both understand the craft is going to be a good bit poorer without more people such as Dan pursuing it.
I now want to tell a short story that personifies the kind of tribute that Dan earned from news sources over his many years in print journalism.
In the spring of 1995, just a few months after I had left Beaumont to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, I got a call from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s office. The governor invited me to Austin to meet with him.
I arrived at the State Capitol Building a few days later. Gov. Bush and I shook hands and he led me to his office. We exchanged a few pleasantries before we got down to brass tacks.
The governor knew I had worked at the Enterprise and he thanked me for the newspaper’s editorial endorsement in the 1994 governor’s race in which Gov. Bush defeated incumbent Democrat Ann Richards.
“It kind of surprised me,” Bush said. “Why is that?” I asked.
He told me about a “reporter you had there who gave me all kinds of trouble” when Bush talked to the media during his campaign stops in the Golden Triangle.
“I can’t remember his name,” he said. I responded, “Oh, you must be thinking of Dan Wallach.”
“Yeah, that’s who it was,” the governor said.
“He was one tough son of a b****.”
We both laughed out loud.
I told Dan not long after that meeting what the governor had said about him. I took it as a statement of high praise and I believe to this very day that’s how George W. Bush intended for it to be taken.
I have wanted for years to tell that story in some public forum. Dan’s retirement has given me that chance.
Well done, Dan.