Woman on Top

‘Yesterday – gone! Today – here we go!’

Beth Cooper Howell pays tribute to departed colleagues who taught her such a lot


‘Yesterday – gone! Today – here we go!’
I was new on the job – about two weeks in – and my boyfriend had broken up with me the previous night.
The newspaper’s photographer Sam Majela and I were taking a taxi to our story somewhere in Port Elizabeth and I wanted to curl up and die – there’s little as pitiful as a bruised heart.
Sam was his usual, jovial self. As we bumped towards the ’burbs, he chattered to the driver, polishing his lens and chuckling at nothing all the while.
In the five years that we worked together, I never saw him frown.
Being a compassionate, friendly sort, Sam was a great listener and so, I wanted to share my despair, expecting – and desperate for – sympathy. Even Sam, ever popular with the ladies, must have been dumped at some point.
Surely Sam, effervescent as a cheerleader, could understand that my coming to work that day had taken enormous effort?
When I told him about the boy next door being no more, he chuckled and polished his lens. The taxi driver clicked his tongue, but it was from Sam that I’d expected commiseration.
Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and chuckled again. Then he turned to me, looking suddenly very much like the yogi that he obviously was, and spread his arms wide, exclaiming:
“Yesterday – gone! Today – here we go!”
I thought of this, and other pearls of Sam Wisdom, when hearing that he and my first boss, former The Herald managing editor Robert Ball, had died within a day of each other in January.
It was not in Robert’s nature, either, to wallow. To focus on the now is necessary in journalism, and that mindfulness and attention to detail – rather than frippery – becomes a general life skill.
Robert (he was comfortable with being called by his first name, despite my old-school discomfort in doing so) would quietly, patiently and doggedly spend hours re-working one’s news article, well after office hours had ended.
Often he did this alone but, sometimes, he would use the process as a teaching opportunity, exposing, without humiliation or disparaging comments, one’s utter failure at gathering facts into a newsworthy, digestible piece of work.
Many of us streamed in and out of that neat, heavy-carpeted office to watch Robert at work. We all emerged not only better journalists but walking a little taller and with dignity. For he was a gentleman, m’am and sir, and gentility is pleasantly infectious.
As tributes to these men emerged last week, it was clear that we all value so much more than our materialistic society would have us believe.
Intelligence, humanity, cheerful optimism, grace under pressure, diligence, humility, gentility and fearlessness – these traits were what their colleagues and friends remembered.
To walk in the footsteps of great men is a privilege afforded to few. And for those of us who have our duty is to mirror their legacy.
I told Robert’s niece, my friend Caroline, that I would remember him, once he had gone, with the famous, bittersweet words from Hamlet. And my Sam.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”..

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