Thursday, August 11, 2011

Harold’s spirit lives and grows

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Maybe it was writing about the Great American Duck Races that reminded me to bring Harold back to the newsroom last week.
“Harold” is what I christened a long-lived green amigo named in honor of Harold Cousland, our beloved editor-in-chief who departed for that great newsroom in the sky in 2001. He left shortly after rallying us to produce an “extra” edition, just hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, the only such special print edition I’ve seen in my many decades in the news biz — and almost certainly the last, in this era of instant online updates, tweets, texts and social media postings.
He went too soon, at 58, but very likely the way he would have wanted to go, with his boots on, so to speak, watching the news.
Harold, for those of you not lucky enough to get to know him, was a nationally-respected journalist with a steel-trap mind, a penchant for puns, and a dedication to journalism and freedom of the press that made his commitment to the news biz seem more like a vocation than a mere job.
It took at least three memorial services, here and in his native Deming, to make his colleagues feel like he’d had something like a proper send-off. The truth is, we didn’t want to let him go.
With the permission of his next of kin, I kept a small plant that was part of a floral tribute sent to a newsroom in mourning. As I put it in its own little pot of soil, I remembered hearing that a soul needed someplace to perch: a bush, a tree or a rock, as it prepared to depart from its Earth home to the next plain. I think it was a legend from my days in Santa Fe, where Harold and I both had worked with the Santa Fe New Mexican, though at different times.
We first met years later, on the phone in 1994, when I was in Jupiter (Fla., not the planet) and missing New Mexico, and he had become editor of the Sun-News. I’d sent a résumé and a few clips and told him I’d realized I belonged in the land of green chile and racing ducks.
He’d offered me a job before I realized that Harold himself had hatched the Great American Duck Race concept, with a group of fun-loving friends, back in 1980, reportedly over a few beers in a bar in Deming.
Harold’s fiesta has grown into an internationally-renowned institution in the past three decades.
Harold the plant flourished in our window-less, stuffy old newsroom, eventually filling a windowbox container and several annex pots as I pruned and subdivided over the years. Several overflow pots of Harold plant puppies went home with friends and colleagues as the staff expanded and space contracted.
When the presses left the building, the Harold parent plant waned a bit, actually seeming to miss the grungy mist of ubiquitous printers’ ink that lingered in the air for so many years. The plant seemed to perk up as political candidates streamed through for editorial conferences, and during various paint jobs, new carpets and attempted renovations of the old building. I was contemplating yet another root division and soliciting adoptions to good homes just before the January fire.
As we moved to interim digs, “Harold” got lost in the shuffle. A few weeks later, I finally found the sole survivor of what was once a flourishing green family. There were a few pathetic brown-tipped grayish leaves. I took the remains home, repotted with fresh soil and propped the stems up with some of my grandson’s old wooden darts.
And last week I brought a bright green, three-foot-high, happy Harold to our interim newsroom on Idaho Ave.
Practical souls would say it’s the windows. Cynics might cite the hot air and copious CO2 emitted by loquacious journalists. I’ll spare you my own theories and sentiments about the spirit of journalism and undying quests for truth, justice and the American Way … the way it ought to be.
But I’d swear “Harold” has grown half a foot and sprouted new leaves in a couple of days.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

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