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Tom Winship

03/20/02 12:00AM By Tom Slayton

Tom Winship, the retired editor of the Boston Globe who died last week, was one of the real heroes of American journalism. Yet unlike many heroes, Winship was also a warm and funny man who was naturally friendly and entertaining.

Make no mistake: his accomplishments at the Boston Globe were major.

During the 20 years he was there, starting in 1965, he transformed the Globe from a parochial newspaper that had advertisements on its front page and signed its editorials "Uncle Dudley," to one of the very best newspapers in the U.S. Before Winship, the paper had won zero Pulitzer prizes. During his tenure, it won 12.

He was a gregarious, ebullient man with a thick skin and a passionate devotion to both journalistic excellence and social justice. The Globe was the second newspaper in America to call for an end to American involvement in the Vietnam War, and it was one of the first to call for the resignation of President Richard Nixon, yet Winship's Globe didn't hesitate to go after liberals when they did wrong.

Perhaps most courageously, the Globe championed the cause of racially integrating the Boston public schools, a crusade that triggered fierce public opposition, including gunshots fired through the newspaper's windows.

I first met Winship in the late 1970s when I was the Globe's Vermont correspondent. He had called all the New England state correspondents to the Globe offices for a meeting. Tom always had a special place in his heart for Vermont because he owned a house in Randolph and planned to retire there, so he asked me, a shy, young Vermonter, to sit next to him. "Nothing like a good piece of Boston scrod is there," he beamed as lunch was served. "No sir," I said.

Tom then proceeded to lead the lunch conversation the way a conductor leads an orchestra. He asked each correspondent to say a few words about the most important issue in their home state. Everyone spoke and we all sounded pretty knowledgeable. Even I spoke, somehow, and what I said came out sounding clear and articulate. Something about Tom's gracious, elegant way of inviting us to talk drew good things out of each of us.

Over the years, Tom and I got to know each other and, some 20 years later, I found myself once again at table with him -- this time at his Randolph home, with other friends and neighbors.

Halfway through the evening, I realized that Tom was again doing what he had done so well at the Globe meeting. He was conducting - leading the dinner conversation like a maestro, drawing out of each of us the best we had to offer. It wasn't manipulative; it was gracious and skillful, a group performance, led by Tom, that I saw him repeat on several other occasions.

It was fun to be around Tom Winship; his passionate commitment to the truth, his wit and grace and intelligence made it fun. Even though he was clearly a great man, that fun was part of his special genius, and part of his mission here on this earth.

--Tom Slayton lives in Montpelier and is the editor of Vermont Life Magazine.

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