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Final Farewell to Leader of Our Band
Where to begin?
I would like to open with the laughter, but I suppose I had better go with the tears. I would not want my old sports editor to scold me for burying the lede.
John Cressy lost his courageous battle with metastatic cancer last Sunday. He was, of course, too young. He barely made it, by two months, to the Beatles song, “When I’m 64.”
John was the Paul McCartney of our band in the sports department of The Star back when it was The Star-Free Press. From 1987 to 1993 he was our leader, our editor, our “O Captain! My Captain!”
Or perhaps he was our John Lennon, for he similarly possessed a wry and acerbic wit. “Cressyman,” as I called him because he always called me “Woodman,” never met deadline pressure he could not pierce with humor.
I was John’s first hire after he became sports editor. If he ever regretted it, he was kind enough never to tell me so.
He actually had reason for second thoughts early on when a couple other editors complained to him that my writing was embellished with too many metaphors, similes and hyperbole.
Similar criticisms had been voiced at my three previous newspapers. But something different happened now. John had my back. He told the naysayer editors he liked my writing style and that so did the readers.
Most important, he took me aside and told me to keep doing it my way.
This is not to say John didn’t try to help me grow as a writer. For one thing, he made me realize less can be more – that an 850-word column could be improved if I whittled it down to 750 words.
Long after John left the Star, I continued to check with him whenever I used the word “whom” to make sure my grammar was correct. He kept trying to teach me how to figure it out on my own, but I honestly didn’t pay close attention because it was always a good excuse to touch bases with him.
John was not only an invaluable grammar reference, he was a human sports trivia almanac. Before the Internet, instead of Googling a question we would just ask John. He once won a few episodes on a sports trivia TV show. Local bars would even call the sports desk and ask for John to settle trivia bets between two patrons.
My experience of having my sports editor also be my friend was the rule, not the exception, with John. Former Star colleague Doug Thompson succinctly summed it up well for all of us: “I am grateful to have known him as a friend.”
When news got out that John was in the ICU at Community Memorial Hospital, his former writers rushed to see him. Those who could not make it to Ventura sent messages of their friendship and love.
Walking into the ICU, I at first did not recognize John, so frail had he become. Whispering required great effort on his part – and leaning in close to his lips on my part to hear.
Saying hello when my heart was telling me this was also a final farewell was suffocatingly somber. And yet John, with some trademark acerbic quips, made me laugh. When he called me “Woodman” it made me smile.
Most dear of all, the thing I will hold on to from that heartrending visit was how Cressyman asked about my daughter and son, and wife. Nor was he content with brief updates, he wanted details in full.
After leaving his bedside I couldn’t find the elevator at first, my vision too clouded by tears.
But tears are not what John – who had a great laugh, a cackle really, and did not conserve it – would want. He would prefer me to end this column on a lighter note. I’ll try.
It’s funny the things you think of at a time like this. Like, who/whom the heck am I now going to ask about who/whom?
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
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