Karen Peterson: An acrostic adios to columnist Peter Callaghan

Executive EditorJuly 6, 2014 

In the most subtle of column signoffs, Peter Callaghan writes today about how difficult it is to walk away from the North End Tacoma home where he and his wife raised their family.

What Callaghan doesn’t say is that they sold the home because they are moving to Minneapolis.

His wife, Suki Dardarian, recently was named senior managing editor of The Star Tribune newspaper. As he said to me, he prefers to have both a wife and a job in the town where he lives, so he’s driving this week to Minneapolis to join her.

Peter Callaghan is good at many things. Saying good-bye is not one of them.

He did allow us to gather Wednesday for a traditional newsroom farewell ceremony. After 29 years at the TNT, it was the hardest of days, both for Callaghan and for us. It also was the sweetest of family gatherings.

My gift to Callaghan was an acrostic — a list of words to describe him that start with the letters of his name.

It went something like this:

P is for perturbed. Callaghan was perturbed about something every day when he walked in the door. Some official somewhere, in his very strong opinion, had messed something up. Being perennially perturbed, it turned out, made for a good columnist.

E is for even. Even when he was going on vacation, he left an extra column for his readers (and his editors).

T is for Tacoma. Of course. Callaghan is a homer and proud of it. He cares deeply for Tacoma, and as he learned when word leaked about his leaving, Tacoma cares deeply for him.

E is for eye rolling. Callaghan was a master of the well-placed eye roll during newsroom staff meetings. His perturbedness did not end with public officials. An editor talking of budgets or policies or procedures also could bug him. Even when I couldn’t see his eyes, I could hear the accompanying sigh.

R is for Representatives. If the newsroom were a democratic government (it’s not), Callaghan would have been speaker of the House of Representatives. Never a manager, he preferred to be a leader of the lower house, often bringing forward concerns on behalf of other staffers.

C is for City Club. Callaghan usually headlined Tacoma City Club’s January meeting, offering his predictions for the upcoming legislative session. He always drew a crowd. As a member of the club, I’m ticked that he’s leaving us in the lurch.

A is for accountability. Callaghan was among our top accountability reporters. Governors, city council members, union leaders and redistricting officials were among those he held accountable. Even when they didn’t agree with him, most respected him.

L is for aloud. (Artistic license applied.) Before touching a keyboard, Callaghan worked through his columns aloud. He made the rounds of other newsroom early birds, prosecuting his case of the day.

Even before his column was pitched, the managing editor knew what Peter would be writing about.

L is for leadership. Not only did Callaghan show leadership in print, he showed it in the newsroom. He mentored a generation of reporters who hung out in his corner of the room. He taught them about our community, our business, about open government laws. He helped them talk through their stories. He did the same for me. He made us better.

A is for a little silly. Alongside his hard-hitting swipes were downright silly columns featuring The Answer Man or Dr. Civitas. He wrote Valentine poems and song lyrics about government officials. A good columnist doesn’t take himself too seriously.

G is for generous. Callaghan spoke frequently to community groups in his off hours. He shared news tips with beat reporters. He pitched in when a colleague needed a helping hand.

H is for history. We learned a lot about Tacoma, Pierce County and the state through Callaghan’s history columns They informed our understanding of our community today.

A is for affection. Callaghan wrote with a true affection for his hometown. He was quick with praise for a job well done, but also quick to point out a shortcoming. He did both with the intent of helping to make this a better place.

N is for next. Here’s where it gets tough. What’s next for the TNT after Callaghan leaves? We haven’t figured that out yet. Likewise, Callaghan doesn’t know precisely what’s next for him professionally. But he leaves the TNT with our love and support, and with our confidence that he’ll find a way to contribute in his new community as he has here.

As columnists go, there’s been no one better suited to being the conscience of Tacoma.

Thank you, Peter.

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