Tribute to Robert C. Maynard

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By Sarah Pollock
December 21, 2013

Delivered at Mills College convocation, Sept. 10, 1993

I was lucky enough to have known Bob Maynard not only as a journalist, but also as my teacher and friend.  I first met him in 1977, when I was 19 years old and a junior at UC Berkeley.  He had come here from the Washington Post to launch a summer program to train minority journalists.  As it happened, I was then managing editor of the Daily Californian and Bob hired me to manage the design and production of the program's newspaper.

I didn't know it at the time, but that first experience of working with Bob Maynard -- which eventually extended into two summers -- was to change my life.  I had planned to become an English professor, but Bob's incredible, charismatic vision about the way the world could be -- and the power of the reported story to help make it so -- drew me instead into daily newspapering.

As the driving force behind the Summer Program for Minority Journalists, he propelled hundreds of non-white journalists into the newsrooms of this country.  And yet -- he also had the gift of not dividing people by race or gender. He welcomed me, a young white woman from suburban California, put his faith in my potential and offered me as much opportunity as I was willing to take.

He was passionate about justice and equality, teaching us to level the differences between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the disenfranchised.  The talks he delivered on the craft of journalism were evangelical, and I still find myself quoting him in the classroom.  Everything about the way I analyze and teach about the news has the mark of what Bob Maynard taught me.

I did go on to become a daily reporter, working on several newspapers back east, and Bob and I stayed in touch.  Eventually the time was right and I came to work for Bob again, this time as a senior editor responsible for the Tribune's features sections.

Despite terrible financial problems that the newspaper finally could not surmount, those years at the Tribune under Bob's vision were heady.  For a brief period the Tribune was a magical place, with unselfconscious friendships forged across racial divides that had seemed unbridgeable chasms at other newspapers.  Oakland is one of the most integrated cities in America, and Bob Maynard's Tribune reflected the community it served.
 
It was a newsroom and a newspaper unlike any where I had worked, a place where women were promoted to senior positions, a place where African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, gays and lesbians were represented in large numbers both on the staff and in the pages of the news.  At the Tribune, I was taught over and over to recognize the cultural assumptions I brought to stories and to include many ethnic groups in all aspects of the news, not just when they were the specific focus of a story.  Simply put, in the Tribune under Bob Maynard them was us, and you can see how that changes your perspective.

Economics and his failing health finally forced Bob to sell the Tribune last year and we watched the dismantling of the newspaper he had built.  And yet, the legacy endures in all of us who had any connection to that newspaper because Bob Maynard created a climate in which a diverse group of people were inspired to do their very best, not for themselves but for a larger sense of community and common cause. 

It was a truly multi-cultural enterprise, and I am struck by the thought of how polarized people sometimes become in talking about diversity, as though the significance will be that everyone will find a role model like herself.  Instead, I pause to consider what a remarkable, rich thing it is that one of the central figures of opportunity and inspiration for me should be a black man from Brooklyn, who reached out across all our differences and recognized our common humanity.

 
  

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