Saturday I was reading lines from the late Vernon Scannell, a boxer as well as a poet: The glittering dance of brilliants must be strung / On that dark thread of sadness which is time.
Sunday morning, a call came from Laurel Martin: our friend and fantastical boss of four years in the mid-90s, Hope Frazier, had died Saturday night in Ojai, at 60, heartbreakingly young.
Hope was so many things: artist, writer, editor, filmmaker, executive, passionate traveler, crusader. She was one of the brilliants. She was like no one else at all.
I loved her, but love is complicated, and brilliants are not easy to work for. Hope was exhausting. After she promoted me to Star-News editor, toward the end of many a 12-hour day in the newsroom, she wanted to take one more pass at a story at 9 p.m., fax it to her lawyer friend in Chicago, make a few small changes. I had a baby and a wife at home her child was grown, and her husband was an understanding newspaperman. But she was the boss, and one more pass is what we made. We did it a lot.
Heady days. It was pre-Internet, and newspapers were still king. But newspapers are always in search of re-invention, and she had wildly ambitious plans to create the most fascinating daily in the world.
She imported a famous graphic designer for a complete redesign, a posse of new managing editors, layer upon layer of copy and assignment editors, fancy reporters whod get months to work on a story. World Cup was coming to Pasadena? Ole! Make it ours. O.J. was taking his longest run? Blow out the front page! Fires, earthquakes? Roll the presses mid-afternoon! Create an extra edition! All managers on deck to hawk the paper on Colorado Boulevard!
The first day in the office, she tracked me down. Im your editor for everything you write, she said. And I want you to be mine for her columns, which frequently ran on the front page, announcing a new initiative, apologizing for taking the American flag off the front page of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, explaining the spadia a flap that wrapped around the features section, crowing about the 1,500 readers whod responded with thoughts on the redesign most of them negative opinions. Some even accuse me of changing things because Im a woman and everyone knows women like to change things just to be changing. Hmmm, she wrote.
Toward the end, when things had gone south with her own bosses and she was lashing out and pushing for more change, daily change, the newsroom assigned me to talk with her about the exhaustion thing. Everyone was tired of what they saw as capriciousness. Youre her friend you can do it. Thanks, guys. We took an exercise walk in the Arroyo. Um, Hope, Ive been asked . . . were some of the hardest words Ive ever said. She stopped on the trail. I expected her to glower and blow up. But she didnt. She listened, soulfully, meeting my eyes with her deep, genius stare. And she thanked me, God bless her, and we hiked on.
Then she hatched a secret plan to buy back the Star-News from its new owners and really change the world! She invited some of us to her home on Prospect Boulevard and we conspired over good wine and really good food she was a brilliant cook. Problem was, the paper had just been sold for $55 million, and big ideas wouldnt foot the bill. But, man alive, was it fun to think them.