What a year in the journalism racket. Walter Cronkite has died, Charlie Gibson has retired and the bible of the reporting business — Editor and Publisher magazine — has expired.
Now Walter Griffin, the steady soldier in the outpost of Belfast, has announced that he will retire next week after 30-odd years with the Bangor Daily News.
It is almost impossible to consider the midcoast news beat without Griffin. “Waldo Walt” has logged thousands of by-line stories, photos and short takes on accidents, snowstorms and local meetings.
I have known Griffin for so long that I remember him when he was the Rockland port developer thanks to the largesse of CETA funding. He and his gorgeous wife once posed for a Samoset Resort booklet. (I bet he still has it.) When the CETA money ran out, BDN Rockland bureau chief Ted Sylvester offered Walter a part-time job with the paper. Walter wanted to stay in the midcoast area so he took the job even though the aforementioned wife said news reporting was “so sleazy.”
Griffin brought a varied background to news gathering, since he was trained as a paratrooper, was partying with Republicans (If you can believe that) at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night Bobby Kennedy was murdered, and sold commercial paper in New York City.
Sylvester soon doubted the wisdom of his offer. Walter was one of the plotters (with me) who pirated television cable service from attorney John Knight during the World Series. Sylvester turned a blind eye to the theft of services during the baseball games but ordered the wire disconnected when the series ended. Sylvester also ordered The Boston Globe banned from the office after Griffin spent hours memorizing the entire edition each day.
On the weekends, Griffin would team with Michael McGuire of the Courier Gazette to form Spare Change, a cover band which would pack the Black Pearl or the Dry Dock waterfront bars, depending on the season.
I served as the band manager of Spare Change and have never seen dime one for my services. But they did introduce me on occasion and would often dedicate “Psycho Killer” to me.
The best times, ever, at Cobb Manor were when the Griffin brothers had a family reunion and played on the deck until the early hours.
Griffin was so smart that I often advised him to run for Congress. Half the reason I started doing crossword puzzles was that Walter would always know the most obscure of answers, off the top off his head.
Eventually, Griffin took off for the greener pastures in Belfast. He learned every nook and cranny of Waldo County and each cop. He even golfed with the sheriff, John Ford, a far cry from his anti-cop rhetoric in Rockland.
One time he was driving to a fire when he was pulled over by a county patrol car. When Walter asked what the problem was the deputy said to forget the fire, there was a much better story, a Route 1 accident.
Talk about contacts.
Walter’s finest hour, I thought, was January 2000, when he found out about a tragic fire in Unity at about 6 p.m. First he found out that triplets were killed in the fire. Then he found out that Waldo County Sheriff Bob Jones, a volunteer firefighter, had dropped dead at the scene. Walter calmly collected all the details and filed the story, all on deadline.
Last March, we were all lolling in Fort Myers, Fla., charting the progress of the Red Sox. The understated Walter called from Belfast to advise us to turn on MSNBC. We did and there was Walter, interviewed by media superstar Rachel Maddow, about the purported “dirty bomb” murder case in little Belfast, Maine. Our boy Walter, no stranger to the microphone, held his own in the national broadcast.
We cheered his television image until we were hoarse.
Professional scold Al Diamon gave Griffin a farewell shot this month on the Down East magazine blog, regarding an admittedly flattering profile of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.
Griffin reported that “Pingree takes pride in the fact that the Maine delegation works closely together on issues of concern to the state.” Diamon replied, “Like health care reform? Well, no need to get into something messy like that. Best just to claim this mythical cooperation is a fact.”
Diamon asked, “Some things I’d have liked to know:
How is Pingree dealing with her lack of clout as a rookie in the Democratic caucus? What specific steps is she taking to help Maine balance its budget over the long term? Got jobs? This fluff doesn’t bode well for coverage of the gubernatorial campaign. It doesn’t even bode well for coverage of the next municipal planning board meeting.”
Well, this wasn’t campaign coverage but a holiday profile. Griffin covered presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races as a matter of course. I was always proud to call Griffin a colleague. I was always proud to call Griffin a friend.
Now, he should run for the state Legislature. He would be the smartest person in the State House. It wouldn’t take much.