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Belisle, tailor-made to be a reporter, leaves legacy of stories

December 21, 2005|by BILL KOHLER

Richard F. Belisle is the kind of person who makes a first impression on everyone he meets.

Richard will be retiring this week after nearly 32 years with The Herald-Mail. Most of those years were spent as a bureau reporter in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Waynesboro, Pa. His final day on the job is Thursday.

Richard was tailor-made to be a reporter - he's naturally inquisitive, bright, a good listener, a hard worker and even occasionally argumentative.

However, what sets Richard apart are his personality and his drive to do his best and what's right.

I've worked as Richard's editor for four years and he made an impression on me the first time we met. He was walking out of The Herald-Mail as I was driving into the parking lot. We did not know what the other looked like, but he saw me and waited around until I had parked and started walking toward the building.

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He came up to me, extended his hand, and said, "I'm Richard. You must be the new Tri-State editor."

I shook his hand and introduced myself in return.

I asked him how he knew it was me. He said, "I knew you were coming here from Wisconsin and I noticed your license plate was from there. I figured it was you."

I knew then that this was one observant reporter who was not going to be buffaloed.

Dozens and dozens of similar cases happened over the next four years.

Richard had many talents that were showcased on the pages of The Herald-Mail since he started in April of 1974.

He covered Frederick, Md., for three years before moving to Berkeley County, which he covered like a blanket for 16 years. He then moved to our bureau in Chambersburg, Pa., and then to Waynesboro for the last 10 years.

Along the way, he covered literally everything: Murder trials, government, elections, police news, business stories and all kinds of feature stories.

Features truly were Richard's bailiwick. Without fail, Richard's stories would reveal some quirky little thing or a fact that other reporters would miss or be unable to meld into the story.

Richard had the uncanny ability to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

"Where does Richard find these people?" has been a newsroom mantra for decades.

There was the story about the man in Fulton County who has 51 8N tractors, mushroom hunters in Mont Alto, the small company in Mercersburg that was making boxes for cameras for the Washington Nationals, coyote hunters (yes, coyote hunters) in Fort Loudon, the retired Pennsylvania state trooper who had a collection of 10,000 beer cans, the woman in Antrim Township who painted her mobile home to look like a Holstein, the St. Thomas woman who collected thousands of diapers to send to an orphanage in Russia, the Waynesboro man who built a working 6-foot model of the U.S. Pennsylvania, the Waynesboro guy who made a living doing G.I. Joe art, the 80-year-old Harley-Davidson rider from Fulton County, the Greencastle dentist who had kept all the toys from his childhood, the guy in Martinsburg who was a member of Graves Registration during World War II and the woman in Mercersburg known as the "Butterfly Lady."

The list could go on and on.

It wasn't that Richard was omniscient and omnipresent (he'll be impressed that I used those words in this column), it was that he used his resources and sources wisely.

Thirty years in this business will teach you that - especially if most of those years were as a reporter.

Don't get me wrong, Richard was no saint. And I'm sure he'll holler about being "canonized" in this column.

He was at times irascible, impatient, feisty and stubborn. Sometimes, he was all four during one 30-minute period.

But even when he was being "high-maintenance," it was over something he perceived as unjust, unfair or unethical. (Or perhaps it was the time I wondered aloud how he was able to fit all of his time off into one calendar year, or questioned his ability to answer a cell phone.)

Richard made a comment to Executive Editor Terry Headlee last week that we are fortunate in this business because we have a box seat to life.

Wow.

That was not only true from our perspective, but for our readers as well.

That was Richard's gift to readers and coworkers - and perhaps a fitting legacy for a long career that started with his first bylined story about a chicken coop fire in Connecticut.

Thanks for the bringing us along for the ride. It was a great view from this box seat.




Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail.

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