By Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2024.
LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
Al Bieber – Managing Editor
As I write this column, 1980s metal band Hardline is playing its hit “Take Me Down” on my Siriux/XM app.
And in a way it’s appropriate because at the end of 2024, The Herald can ‘take me down’ from its masthead.
I’ve decided as my 65th birthday approaches in spring, this will be my final year in journalism. I’m not necessarily retiring – I have too much drive for that – I’m just walking away from the newspaper industry.
It’s a decision I’ve thought about a lot in recent weeks for a number of factors, my advancing age being only one of them. As I basically told company managers earlier this week, the brain says I’m 14 but the body says otherwise.
I’m working harder now at 64 when many are in the twilight of their careers than I did when I was 24 and was working seven days a week as a sports writer.
In the 1980s, days off were something other people took. I was always at a ball diamond, a hockey rink, the golf course, the curling club or on a lake covering one thing or another.
Only one person I know from college is still in this profession, my pal Frank McTighe in Fort Macleod who I suspect works harder even than me. And who needs to join me on another Ontario fishing expedition – except this time we won’t leave a minnow bucket in the trunk of a car for three days like the last time when he visited in 1985.
And we hopefully won’t have to drive down a rain-soaked highway slippery with frogs, some of which, as Frank will remember, grotesquely plastered themselves against the windshield, headlights and grille of my old Chevy Caprice after launching themselves out of ditches on both sides of Highway 11 .
Since being given the privilege of serving this paper as its managing editor, I’ve upped my work game to a whole new level due to the demands of this job but it’s not physically sustainable until May of 2025 when I had planned to call it a day.
Instead, I’ll bow out at the end of 2024 after hopefully continuing to leave my mark in a positive way on this community for a final 12 months.
As I’ve written before, this newspaper has been part of my life since I was born and I was named partly after a paper carrier in Warner – it’s a connection I doubt any other Herald employee has. Whoever he was, that carrier left a huge impression on my parents.
When other kids were starting to read about Dick and Jane, I was reading the Herald in Grade One when we moved to Cardston after learning to read when I was four in kindergarten when Westlock was briefly our home.
I didn’t understand many of the words in the paper but knew enough to get by.
This newspaper is a massive part of my life and it’s given me a good life since I started here in 1987.
It’s been an interesting career with many pages turned and more than 300 still to go as I write the final chapters of my newspaper career which started in February of 1980 when I was hired after a telephone interview with Jim Cumming of the Fort Frances Times to start work in northern Ontario – a world away from my dad’s kitchen in the Calgary neighbourhood of Bridgeland where I lived while studying and socializing at SAIT.
Much of that socializing – and studying – as old SAIT grads will know was conducted at the Highlander Motor Inn on 16th Ave. NW. or in other popular Calgary hangouts.
I’ve looked back a lot at this career in recent weeks, a career which has had more than its shares of ups and downs.
And this past year was definitely one of the ups after being asked if I would be willing to take over the top job in the newsroom.
It’s a challenge I’d long wanted and I feel I’ve lived up to it.
I realize others will disagree but this is a different news environment than when I started. I’ve got two permanent full-time news reporters, one sports writer and one page editor now, as well as two contract employees whose terms are up at the end of March – a far cry from the Herald of August 1987 when the newsroom was packed with writers, editors and photographers.
But we’re still getting the job done. And I’m proud of that.
But being appointed managing editor was just one highlight of 2023.
One that will make arguably the most lasting impact personally was the restoration of my eyesight.
Thanks to Dr. Eddie Kwan, I had cataracts removed from both eyes and for the first time since Grade 5 I have 20/20 vision. Dr. Kwan was recommended to me by my own eye doctor Len Ferguson and I am indebted to both of them for the change that new vision has made in my life.
I was seriously fearful about losing my sight as the cataracts that Dr. Ferguson first saw in spring of 2022 grew quickly. But all the worry was for nought and now I need glasses only for reading.
I make do now with reading glasses which I carry everywhere and have all over the house in case I need to read phone messages or labels. And I never leave the house or office without sunglasses due to the sensitivity of my eyes to light.
While I was worried about the surgery initially, a cousin in Eugene, Oregon I’d connected with who had the same procedure put those fears to rest.
And meeting that cousin as well as her family ranks as perhaps the biggest highlight of the year. All of us cousins grew up knowing who Penelope (Patrick) Oshatz was but only the eldest among us had any sort of relationship with her because her folks moved from Bassano to B.C. in the mid 1960s. I remember meeting her once at her parents house in Kelowna briefly.
And in spring, I had the pleasure of a reunion with Penelope, husband Steven and daughter Tanya who made a trip to Alberta to visit us, my cousin Sharron and meet Rio the German Shepherd before he died.
Penelope got to know Rio well through the photos I shared with her in recent years and the two had a special connection the day they met. Rio, who was never the most friendly dog in the world to a lot of people, clearly felt a kindred spirit in both Penelope and Tanya and I was so glad they had that chance to meet before we had to say goodbye to the biggest personality I’ve ever known.
With retirement – at least from journalism – coming at the end of December, it will be my turn to pay a return visit and to reconnect again.
I’m counting the days.