The Enterprise has had two newsroom mothers, as far as I know. I was lucky enough to be friends with both Bea Drutz and Randy Lewis, but Randy was the one I knew better because I worked with her.
Like Bea, Randy was a fantastic copy editor, with a sharp eye and command of the English language. Also like Bea, she was a surrogate mom to the newsroom staff, who at the time were mostly in our 20s and didn't have our own mothers close by. Randy and Bea worried about us, gave us advice about anything from love lives to news stories to how to recover from a cold, and just generally loved us in a way we could feel.
Unlike Bea, who worked here for 35 years until she retired in spring 1999 - less than four months before I started that August - Randy was only here for a year-and-a-half. I was here for all of it. Andy Flynn hired her in spring 2000, and she left in late 2001.
Her short time here had a huge impact on the staff, though. Years afterward, many continued to meet with her to have lunch and talk.
Each of these two women brought an extra gift to the newsroom: Bea as an archivist, Randy as a writer. Generations of Enterprise reporters revered Bea's meticulously organized manilla envelope files. Randy reached out to readers with her column, "Actively Adirondack," and kept it up long after she left the staff - through this winter, when her cancer had become too much of an obstacle.
She died June 18.
If you, like me, knew and loved Randy and want to hang out with other people who did, there's a celebration of life ceremony for her tonight at 7 o'clock at BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.
Many of you knew her in other ways than I did, because her copy editor job was a small fraction of her life's work. She was just as maternal as a teacher at Paul Smith's College and North Country Community College. She loved her students and went way out of her way for them.
My former next-door neighbor, Charles Williams, called her "Mom," with good reason. She and her husband Neil Surprenant practically adopted Charles when he came to Paul Smith's from Rhode Island to play basketball and learn how to be a chef. They took him into their home, went to his games, tolerated him teaching their sons how to rap, and otherwise nurtured him through an important time in his life. That was two decades ago, and he's still here. He told me he credited Randy as a major factor in choosing this place to work and raise a family.
Many more people knew Randy from her column. It was full of her observations about seasons, animals, plants and neighbors. It all sounds harmless, but it was actually kind of polarizing. Many readers, like my grandma, adored it, but I have to admit that after Randy left the Enterprise, some reporters used to groan as they proofread it.
"Enough about blue jays and squirrels already!" - that's the kind of thing I used to hear on deadline some mornings.
I always felt caught in between. I have to confess it wasn't my thing, either. I'm just not as open-hearted as she was. I loved getting a dose of her in person, but I didn't always go for her writing style.
But I appreciated where she was coming from, and I knew how much it meant to readers like my grandma. Also, I loved that she was so observant. I notice the same details she did when I walk around town or in the woods: one wildflower giving way to another as the summer wears on, crows' and sparrows' raucous morning conversation, etc.
Plus, she had included my wedding in a column back in 2001, appreciating the details in a way that meant a lot to me. A clip of that turned up recently, in my grandma's house after she died. I saved it.
My best memory of Randy, however, is from California. My wife and I lived in the central part of the state for a year, and during that time, Randy and Neil were on sabbatical, volunteering at national parks. They spent a few months in the redwoods of northern California, and we went up to visit them. That weekend still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
Their cabin was on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where they said they regularly saw whales, eagles and ospreys. A short walk downhill took us to a rocky beach where we, too, saw whales, plus plenty of sea lions - and Natives shooting the sea lions, which is allowed but saddened us nevertheless.
We strolled through a grove of giant trees and also through Crescent City, a town Randy said was just like Saranac Lake. She also showed us the small daily newspaper there, which she said was just like the Enterprise.
Mostly, though, what I remember is hanging out at their cabin and talking. We knew them pretty well already, but that weekend we formed tighter bonds. It helped that we were unstressed (unlike our time at the Enterprise) and in a place we all had fallen in love with, sharing it together.
Sharing - that's what Randy did. She shared herself better than almost anyone I've known - her loves, her advice, her observations - and shared others' burdens on her own shoulders as well. People like that are precious, and when we find them, we treasure them.
Bea was like that, too. She died on New Year's Eve, 2006. I remember her funeral; the church was packed.
These days our newsroom staff is more middle-aged, but that doesn't mean we don't need an in-house mom anymore. It just means we're better at acting like we don't. I'm probably the worst in that. I miss Randy terribly.