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The top people of a generation, the ones whose pace is sure and swift and who if they stumble stumble forward -- they might not be the best choice to deliver your eulogy. With all due respect, they might have been a little too busy with themselves to have paid you the attention you deserved.
That's just a thought -- a thought I might have had for the first time in 2002, at the memorial service for Tom Fitzpatrick. Fitz in his day was one of the top people -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Sun-Times. The memorial service didn't do only him justice -- it was a celebration of the generation he'd just departed and one of the funniest, sweetest 90-odd minutes of my life. Paul Galloway presided, and he had paid attention.
I hesitate to write another word about Galloway, a friend and former Sun-Times colleague who died Monday in Oklahoma. There's not much to add to this tribute by Roger Ebert -- a eulogy that contradicts the theory I just proposed. I'd have told you the chair story, but Ebert has all the details.
Galloway was one of those top people you fully appreciate once you're grownup enough to understand who they really are. If the city room didn't boil with his ambition -- well, it boiled enough without it. He told me once that what he liked about the Sun-Times city room when he first saw was its "hyperactive study-hall kind of atmosphere, full of problem children." He went on, "And I said to myself, 'This is where I want to be.'"
For his foxhole mates, absolute loyalty. For the brass, ironic forebearance. Years after we both left the Sun-Times he found himself in a position that suited him perfectly -- writing features for the Tribune's Tempo section. That ended when the paper's editor, obeying an impulse he should have shared with a therapist, decided to transfer the entire Tempo staff to other jobs and bring in a batch of rookies. "I'm extremely angry and extremely hurt," Galloway told me. "But our leaders are brilliant and compassionate people, and I'm sure they know what they're doing."
In 2002, when the Tribune made a public show of firing his close friend Bob Greene for consorting with a column subject, Galloway was totally loyal. "Now that I've retired," he said, "I would welcome any kind of an investigation of inappropriate sexual behavior throughout the Tribune. I would like to see the paper rid itself of any men who would go around and try to seduce legal-age women."
Newspapers were never less believable to Galloway than when they delivered "a thundering statement of righteousness." He suspected "some sort of agenda we may not know about." That's where he parted company with friends like me who believed he was underestimating newspapers' powers of self-important fatuity.
That's an argument about the all-powerful press I doubt anyone's having any longer. Certainly nobody young.