Bill Morem’s path first crossed mine 13 years ago when I was working freelance in San Francisco, trying to peddle my columns to editorial page editors across the state.
I was cold-calling them and being greeted by the wild enthusiasm that you might expect a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman to receive. It was gloomy work.
Until, that, is, I called a dinky little paper on the Central Coast and made my pitch. The guy running those pages asked to read the column, then chatted me up, inquiring about it and about myself, commiserating with me for trying to make a buck freelancing.
He actually offered to buy the column.
But the key part, the unique part is, he took the time to listen to a guy everyone else was brushing off.
I begin with this anecdote because to me it illustrates Bill’s greatest attribute as a human being: He was interested in people, and he let them know it. His interest was genuine, not feigned, as is so often the case with reporters burrowing for a story.
It was a wondrous and rare quality.
Later, I joined The Tribune, and for five years Bill and I ended up in the same Dilbert cubicle, back-to-back. Neither of us could move our chair without bumping into the other.
I got to listen to Bill interview people, which was an education and a treasure. He somehow got to their core and was able to bring it to life on the printed page.
But Bill brought more than that to the newsroom. He had gravitas. He was of the county and had what newspapers call institutional knowledge. He knew everything about everybody, where all the bodies were buried. He shared that with the rest of us and made us better.
Bill also could be very funny. He was able, for example, to trot out a perfect Grandpa Simpson voice, and sometimes would grab a column written by old coots lamenting the loss of the 1950s, stand up, and read it aloud to the newsroom in that Simpson voice. It sounds corny, but it was hilarious.
He also loved the language, which was a particular blessing to me. All newspapers are different in this regard, and we worked in one of those newsrooms with editors who were journalistic technocrats; they could spot a missing comma, but did not love the language and its wondrous possibilities.
Bill did appreciate language and its magic. We shared that, and it made the days brighter. He once found a phrasebook of oddball Nova Scotia phrases, and couldn’t wait to show it to me. For months, we traded lines from that weird little book.
He also was well read, of course.
I’ve spoken a bit about the people Bill helped, and his good friend, The Tribune’s Stephanie Finucane, has written eloquently about that.
I can’t improve on it, so I’m going to try to tell what he meant to me personally, if I can pull that off without getting maudlin. I didn’t know him long compared to most local folks, but he mattered a great deal to me.
Professionally, he was both a resource and a sounding board. I often fact-checked my columns with him and ran phrases past him to see if they would work.
As Tribune columnists, I felt we were a perfect combination. Bill’s sunny, optimistic take on local matters and people balanced my often darker, more political, and angrier takes.
We thought of each other as yin and yang columnists and called each other Frick and Frack.
On a more personal level, Bill was a counselor and friend. He and I and a third old timer used to pace the Tribune parking lot listening to each other’s gripes and just providing a shoulder. This was enormously important to me. More than once he kept me from quitting, and every day he kept me steady.
Over his life he must have done that for too many people to count.
I don’t want to make this all Pollyanna-ish, and like all of us, Bill had his demons, ferocious and relentless. Nobody knows that better than the people who loved him the most and tried to help him face them down.
Since Bill died, I’ve heard this dissected on local radio by people who did not wish him well in life nor do they in death. They should do the decent thing and leave it alone. Bill’s troubles at the end are a private matter that belongs in the court of those who cared.
For the rest, this is a time to celebrate Bill’s life, to recall all the good things he did and brought to people.
He liked whimsy, so I’m going to go whimsical here at the end.
I like to think of Bill Morem these days at the Pearly Gates, where the line of those awaiting admission has suddenly grown unaccountably long. They’re thinking to themselves, what’s the hang up?
It’s Bill, of course, chatting up St. Peter, asking him how long he’s been on the job, what drew him to this line of work, and how he likes it. Of course, he also tells Pete what a bang-up job he’s doing.
St Peter would like to move things along, but there’s something irresistible about this new tenant. And let’s face it, not a lot of folks passing through the gates ask him how he’s doing.
Vaya con dios, my friend. And thank you.
Bob Cuddy, an award-winning journalist and former Tribune columnist, lives in Arroyo Grande. Send comments to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.