There's a thing called the "tomorrow" file. It's where reporters are supposed to let us editor types know what they'll be working on the next day.
Everyone gets busy, and people sometimes forget to fill out the file. And occasionally there is shocking noncompliance. When that occurs, the DuPage County staffers get a note from me. In a recent one, I asked, "Do I have to start quoting my dad?"
My dad, you see, gave me some of the first advice I can recall when I decided to become a journalist. "Writing," he said, "is like shaving. You have to do it every day or you're a bum." I've repeated it to the staff so many times, I figure I only have to allude to it now to make my point.
Dad gave me another piece of advice early in my career. "If you're trying to figure something out," he said, "put a big, fat dollar sign in front of it." In other words, look for who might stand to make some money out of some deal.
Sounds like sage words that might be coming from a veteran investigative news guy. But my dad just had a lot of common sense. He spent the majority of his career employed at Motorola's Schaumburg headquarters, mostly in the communications and electronics division (anyone remember two-way radios?). Robert R. Davis retired in 1987 and lived not extravagantly but happily in retirement until his death last week at age 88.
I can't say my dad was the reason I chose journalism as a career; he was happy to support whatever field I chose. (And, trust me, that did not come easily. I still wonder what I would have done with a bachelor's degree in psychology or political science as I bounced around colleges.) But once I decided to go into the news business, he became a big fan of it. He wasn't exactly one to deliver pep talks and pile on the praise, but I knew he was proud of what I did for a living. Many years ago, while I was a reporter here, I was trying to call him at work. I reached a secretary instead, and identified myself. Oh, you're the Daily Herald reporter, she said, we hear about you all the time.
Even well into his 80s, Dad stayed on top of things. He'd ask me about stories we ran in the paper. When the Daily Herald announced a year ago that we'd be the first newspaper in the metropolitan area to charge for online content and that we were encouraging subscribers to sign up for the full digital package, Dad said he'd been poking around, trying to find out what he needed to do to sign up for the program. Well, Dad, I said, this might not be for you: You don't have a computer. But the sentiment was much appreciated.
Dad enjoyed excellent health, lived in the same Naperville home he bought in 1969 until the day he died. He was on his own after my mom passed away in 2009. And, honestly, we didn't check on him every single day; he seemed to be doing so well. So when we found him in his bed last Saturday, we looked at his cellphone; the last call he made was a day earlier to the "Smart Quiz" on WBBM Newsradio 780. "Active and involved up until the end," was how I put it in an email I sent to friends.
In fact, in looking over that note, it seemed there was some useful info that could be part of the obituary we were planning to run. So I asked the funeral home to pass along to the Daily Herald the paragraph about Dad's Motorola career. Turns out the entire note was passed along -- and used. It's a small thing, but I honestly believe we try to make those kinds of accommodations for family members who want to leave their own imprint on an obit. Sometimes they read a bit different, but there's no question they come from the heart of the deceased's family. I hope we never lose that folksy touch.
So, to the man who shaped my life more than any other individual, I say: Goodbye, Dad, I hope I can continue to do you proud.