Former Daily Herald theater critic Tom Valeo succumbs to cancer
Tom Valeo was a man who wore many hats, both literally and metaphorically.
A versatile writer and editor at the Daily Herald who arguably was best known for his work as the newspaper's theater critic for 15 years, Valeo probably would have told you he was a student of life.
Curious and calm. Patient and kind. And forever in search of the perfect cup of coffee. Valeo, 65, died Wednesday after a 14-month battle with esophageal cancer at his home in Florida.
Valeo, a voracious reader who after leaving the Daily Herald in 2000 began writing about health and the science of the human brain, actually diagnosed his cancer.
"He warned me that he was a hypochondriac, so I thought, 'Let's look this up and prove you wrong and get on with our day,'" said his wife, Karen Pryslopski. "But dammit, he was right."
The couple married more than eight years ago in their kitchen, their favorite spot in their home in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Valeo's family said he approached his diagnosis and treatment with the same methodical calm that he did with everything in his life.
"Sometimes I would worry that my grief and sadness was making him feel bad, but he was really peaceful about it," said his daughter Jana Valeo.
Valeo was a Wisconsin native who graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in history in 1971. After a couple of stints at smaller Wisconsin newspapers, Valeo arrived at the Daily Herald in 1978 as a crime reporter. Within a few years, he was writing features for the newspaper's Sunday magazine and in 1982 became the Daily Herald's theater critic, a job that delighted his three children.
"He was a theater critic who unironically wore a beret," Valeo's son, Pete, recalled. "It was very interesting to have him as a male role model, and I developed the same appreciation and curiosity for things and an eagerness to absorb things in the world."
Valeo's children said he would frequently take them to performances but was more interested in what they thought of the shows than sharing his opinions.
"He definitely taught us an appreciation for the arts and critical appreciation for people creating things," said his daughter Nina Valeo Cooke. "He respected our interests in theater and even took us to 'Cats,' even though he was so over it by then."
Producers of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" once used part of Valeo's review of the show as a blurb on promotional posters where he called it "eye-popping and exuberant." Valeo's first wife, Liz, said that also summed up their life together raising a family in Arlington Heights.
"Life with him was you never knew what was going to happen," she said. "It was a very, very lucky and cool way to raise a family."
After leaving the Daily Herald, Valeo wrote for the Tampa Bay Times, Scientific American magazine and numerous other publications.
Daily Herald Chairman, Publisher and CEO Doug Ray recalled Valeo's contributions to the newspaper's growth and influence.
"Tom's outstanding journalism helped our newspaper grow and prosper, but it was his calm, thoughtful nature that stood out in the midst of the whirlwind of the day," Ray said.
A longtime friend and former colleague, Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire called Valeo "a dose of Valium on legs."
"In a world of Type A journalists who were always under the constant strain of deadlines, he was an oasis of calm," Gire said. "And Tom Valeo preferred knowing to being known, which is a key difference to why most people go into journalism."
Daily Herald Editor John Lampinen said Valeo's work influenced his contemporaries and future generations of writers.
"His work set a standard that inspired those who worked alongside him and those who would follow him," Lampinen said. "Though we mourn his passing, we're so grateful to have known him."
Valeo's friend of more than 50 years, Margo Hammond, said it was easy to like Valeo because he was never judgmental and always honest. Rarely, she said, would he let anything rile him up. Hammond said their disagreements were few, but they did have disagreements about spirituality.
"He just kind of took life as what it was and that was it," she said. "I told him I want him to haunt me so I would win the argument."