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To one reporter, Schurz more than father of journalism

June 20, 2009|By PAT KING MACHT

The year was 1974. It was a spring day in College Park, Md., when the young woman walked through the door of a University of Maryland journalism classroom. The room had been commandeered by a distinguished middle-aged, dark-haired newspaper man with a crooked smile. He had been using this classroom to interview candidates for summer interns. It was quite clear from the stack of rsums lying on the professor's desk that he had already interviewed quite a few students interested in spending the summer working on his daily newspaper. This particular young woman was one of the last interviews of the day.

The 25-year-old co-ed realized she was something of a long shot. Certainly, her grades were good, and her clips were decent. Her work ethic was evident when one looked at all of the jobs she held to work her way through school. As the interview began, she felt compelled to say the following: "I know I don't have straight As, and I know there are others who have more clips from the Diamondback," she told the newspaper man. "But no one will work harder than I will," she said emphatically, "so I would really, really appreciate it if you could take a chance on me."

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The newspaper man thanked the young woman for her honesty and her interest. As the day ended, he looked over the finalists and decided he'd give the young woman what she wanted - a chance.

That thoughtful newspaper man was none other than Jim Schurz, and the young woman was me. I was moved then that Jim would give me a chance. All that has followed in my professional life can be traced back to Jim's decision to open a door for me.

I worked at The Daily Mail that summer of 1974, and I must have met the standard for working hard because after I graduated from Journalism School, I was hired and worked at The Daily Mail for five wonderful years. I covered city and county government, and did features. (My favorite was a story that described the best treehouses in Washington County.) It was the best experience of my life.

Upon learning of the passing last week of this newspaper legend, it seemed important to acknowledge that single act of kindness done nearly 40 years ago. I can't think of a better day than Father's Day to publicly acknowledge that his decision that spring day ultimately transformed my life.

It led to a 10-year career as a reporter, and an even longer career as a business communications executive. I met my future husband in Hagerstown and had two wonderful children - one a future public defender, and the other a journalist with NBC in New York.

When Jim opened the door for me, he probably had no idea what it meant to my family. I was the daughter of an electrician, the first to graduate from college. Because Mr. Schurz allowed the flame in me to burn bright, I came to find out what I never knew in all the years I grew up: My ancestors had owned and operated one of the oldest newspapers in the state of Maryland, the St. Mary's Beacon, in the 1800s. Go figure - newspapering was in my blood and it took someone who also had newspaper ancestry to indirectly identify that for me.

It would be an overstatement to say Jim Schurz was my mentor. Mentors are important and everyone should have one. But even smaller, single acts of kindness - like taking a chance on someone who had high aspirations to make something of their professional lives - is equally as impactful. It is further evidence that Jim Schurz was not just a great newspaper man. He was an incredible human being.

Pat King Macht, a former Daily Mail reporter, is the assistant executive officer for public affairs for the California Public Employees' Retirement System. She has been married for 31 years to former Morning Herald reporter Maury Macht, who is deputy city editor of the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee.

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