Goodbye, Tommy Tomlinson

Well, I’m a journalist, so from time to time, you’ll find perhaps some commentary on a journalistic debate from me or an essay or silly poem or, as in today’s case, something deeply pensive, in the sense that Dumbledore and I share that giant, memory storage pot of silvery goo.

Unless you’re in the business side of the foodservice industry and subscribe to QSR magazine (you should!), chances are, you haven’t seen much writing from me. But sometimes one gets hit by inspiration like a charter bus jumping the sidewalk–halting, adrenaline-inducing, leaving that kind of gravelly taste in your body that seems to travel up to your ears­–the point is, I sometimes need to wake up and write, and sometimes you need a strange wake-up call. (If all you’ve taken from this paragraph is that I was on a bus that jumped the sidewalk, your reading skills are tragic.)

Today, I’m not sure what I want to write about. But it feels like a good time to write.

That’s probably because I’ve spent half of my lunch hour at work browsing Tommy Tomlinson’s old columns. Tomlinson is definitely one of my favorite columnists. I began reading him when I was 9. He wrote on the front page of the Charlotte Observer a few times a week, and I, a journalism nerd in the making, devoured his sinfully symmetric rhetoric. 

It’s not an untruthful stretch to say Tomlinson may have inspired me to go into journalism. When I was 8, my dad suggested I start reading the newspaper, even just skimming the headlines, to get a sense of what happens in the world. I preferred repeats of Scooby Doo, but some mornings I’d cast my eyes over the front page, above the fold.

This was also the year that my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Nappi, assigned the class newspaper homework. We were to find one article a week, cut it out and bring it in, along with a summary of the 5 Ws.

Between my dad and Mrs. Nappi, I found Tommy Tomlinson. His articles were thought provoking and made me chuckle. What started as a homework assignment became an addiction. I read Tomlinson all the way until I was 18, and moved up to UNC-Chapel Hill–where, after a freshman year spent playfully denying the career choice I’d deep down made year ago, I decided to go into journalism.

All this reflection has a point, I promise, and here it is: Tomlinson left the Observer last week, May 4, to pursue a new opportunity. Though I haven’t read him as religiously as I would’ve liked, I’m still quite sad to see him go. Few columnists can transport their readers directly into a locale. It’s fair; newspapers give writers a word limit, and no one likes to read sentences as long as Michael Chabon’s in a newspaper.

But, using the few words he had, Tomlinson transformed magic into English form.

Here, his lead on the column post-Katrina: Sounds defined the day. But let’s start with a quiet one. The soft scratching of a pen on a banner to honor the dead.
The man writes it out then traces back over it so the words won’t fade.
Louise Thecla Jones Casimire. May 25, 1922-September 05, 2005. 4:10 a.m.

The lead on the column he wrote on his wedding day, probably the most widely received of them all: Unless I screw up between now and “I will,” sometime around 6:30 this evening I will become a married man.

It’s tough to put yourself out there as a writer. That’s why a lot of reporters do just that–report, not reflect, and keep themselves out of the picture.

Tomlinson had said he didn’t like to write about himself, to place himself on center stage like he was more important than goings-on in Charlotte, but when he did, he knew how to push the emotion buttons during our robotic, daily-grind days and get a reaction out of us. For that, I will miss Tommy Tomlinson’s columns.

 – Sonya


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