I want you to know about my friend Bob Weston.
There are probably many of you “veteran” watchers of local politics – which means “old” like me – who already know Bob, who passed away June 8 at his retirement home in Frisco, Texas, at the age of 89.
Young reporters often get a load of me and think, Man, that dude’s old school. Well, maybe I am. I wear it as a badge of honor.
But, you young whippersnappers, if you think I am “old school,” you should have known my friend Bob.
Bob was Old School Squared. And it served him well over his nearly 50 years in the news business, especially when I knew him as my predecessor as politics reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Weston cared not a whit for awards or little plaques to tell him that he had done well. Didn’t matter. You can’t eat awards.
And in an era when the message from the White House is that journalists, young and old, are “enemies of the people,” I can hear him turning the air blue with a string of expletives. He knew damn well that he could be the best friend his readers ever had.
That is why any awards he won probably collected dust in a closet. Bob didn’t collect plaques; he collected scoops. He was hell-bent on being the first with a story – not just because it made him look good, but because he owed it to the readers, the paying customers.
And, unquestionably, Bob was one of the biggest characters I have ever known in this business. And I have known a lot.
People you could describe as characters are a dying breed in journalism and, if they ever fade away altogether, we all might as well go sell insurance.
Last Sunday, I put a post on my Facebook page about Bob’s death, and I was inundated with comments from former Enquirer employees (known as “Exquirers” on Facebook). Every one of them talked about what a bigger-than-life character he was; how he walked around constantly with an untucked shirt splattered with Skyline Chili stains; and that high-decibel Bob Weston laugh, which sounded like the mating call of a sea lion.
You could hear him from one end of the Enquirer newsroom to the other; and it was a big newsroom. You could probably hear him upstairs in the publisher’s office.
Aaarrrr, aaarrr, aaarrr, aaarrrr!
Drove some people stark-raving mad. I liked it and was always laying funny lines on him, just so I could get an eruption of Mount St. Bob.
Tom Brush was a mayor of Cincinnati back in Bob’s days as politics writer, and one who couldn’t get enough of Bob’s laugh.
He would gather visitors in his office and tell them, “You’ve got to hear this.” Then he would call Bob and get him on the line. He’d put the call on speaker so everyone in the office could hear it. The mayor would snap off a funny line. Bob would start the mating sea lion laugh and the mayor would then cut the speakerphone. Everyone would be in stitches, asking him, Who is this guy?
Of course, Bob was oblivious to all of it. And wouldn’t have cared anyway.
The chili-stained shirts were for real, an essential part of the Weston persona. I am not one to talk, being something of a slob myself, but you always knew when Bob had been to lunch at the Skyline at Seventh and Vine, just down the block from the Enquirer building.
I remember going over to Skyline one day with Bob. He was dressed in his usual white shirt and tie. He ordered up his three-way and asked the server to tie a bib about his neck.
“Bob, a bib?,” I said. “You have destroyed my image of you forever. I can’t believe what I am seeing.”
He started muttering under his breath, most of which I am sure suggested that I was the offspring of a female dog.
Bob and his wife JoAnn, who survives him, had two kids – Brad and Ellen – who were grown by the time I knew them and were off pursuing careers and starting their own families. It was to be near their grandchildren that Bob and JoAnn moved to Texas after his retirement.
JoAnn, who is one of the sweetest, kindest human beings I have ever known, is the complete opposite of her husband in her personal habits. He might have been a slob, but JoAnn was neat and kept their house in Loveland in immaculate condition.
They used to invite me to their place for dinner. I remember one time when I remarked how nice the house looked.
“JoAnn,” I said, “Do you make Bob live in the garage?”
She laughed; Bob did some more muttering under his breath, none of it complimentary.
Bob and I always had an unusual relationship between one guy who had been politics writer for the newspaper and another guy who followed him into that job. But we also had a real, lasting friendship – even though we ended up barking at each other now and then.
I came to the Enquirer in Oct. 1982 with the reputation as a young reporter with a great deal of experience covering politics. But that was Bob’s beat, and I was satisfied being his understudy on political stories.
But, by the spring of 1984, metro editor Jim Delaney (and probably some other senior editors; I don’t know) decided I had a future as an editor and they called me into being an assistant metro editor, with the responsibility of working with the reporting staff on their daily stories.
I did it for six months. I pretty much hated it for six months.
One day, I went into Jim’s office and said that I wanted out; I wanted to go back to reporting and writing, the only thing I loved. I got no satisfaction at all from fixing other reporters’ copy.
“Jim, you know the only thing I like about this job?” I said. “Friday afternoon. That’s when I get to pass out the paychecks. Everybody likes me on Friday afternoons.”
Delaney got the picture and agreed to put me back on as a reporter.
I went out to the newsroom.
Bob, who had seen me coming out of Delaney’s office, wanted to know what was going on. To Bob, everything was his business.
“What’s going on, sport?” he said.
“Sport” was Bob’s nickname for me.
I told him I had asked Delaney to take me off the desk and that he agreed to do it.
Bob’s eyes bulged out of his head and he immediately bolted into Jim’s office, where he told our boss he wanted the assistant metro editor job. After some discussion, Jim agreed; and soon it was announced that Bob and I would be switching jobs – I would be politics writer; Bob would be assistant metro editor.
Things were rolling along quite well for a while, until I started hearing from the political sources I was developing that Bob had called them about the same thing. They were confused.
Who am I supposed to be talking to? You or Bob?
This was intolerable for a new beat reporter.
One morning, after a news meeting, I dragged Bob into the conference room and started reading him the riot act.
How do you expect me to develop sources and do my job, if you are calling up all your political sources and pumping them for information? They have no idea whether to talk to me or you. You are now the editor. I am now the reporter. You must let me do my job and I will let you do yours. Capeesh?
To his credit, Bob was very apologetic. And he stopped calling the politicos.
I felt sort of bad having to bust his chops, because I knew he was a reporter at heart.
He couldn’t help himself. He was a reporter. He wanted to be the first to know.
That was my friend Bob. And I loved him like a brother.
Howard Wilkinson is 91.7 WVXU’s senior political analyst. His “Tales from the Trail” column appears on wvxu.org every Friday and gives a behind-the-scenes look at Wilkinson’s 45 years of covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals and business of politics on a local, state and national level.