An Enterprising Reporter

(Remarks by me at a memorial service for Terry Dalton on Feb. 19.)

Terry Dalton and I worked for the same newspaper in Centre County in the early 1970s and became fast friends. His job was to cover county and local government in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. That meant writing about anything from a boring planning commission meeting to a murder trial.

A fellow reporter recalls “Terry with phone propped between chin and shoulder typing notes as he interviewed people (some unwillingly). His desk was always heaped with papers, notes, and what-have-you--debris from news gathering and neglect. He was always intent and serious about his job, with proper measures of cynicism/realism and good humor. He worked long and hard at his craft and filled the CDT with a lot of fact and truth.  I remember he got a fair amount of ribbing about his stories being too long, something that carried over to his annual Christmas letters.”

Kathy, who as the editor of the letters shortened them every year, laughingly takes exception to that remark. But I digress.

Terry loved his job. No story was beneath him. And what made him even better was his enterprising attitude. He not only covered what he was assigned, but he came up with stories on his own. He was a self-starter.

An activist from back home remembers Terry’s in-depth and extensive coverage of an old mill about to be torn down resulted in a change of attitude in the community and on town council and saved the mill, which became the home of a very good restaurant and brewpub.

When he learned that a woman in the office where he worked had become an umpire in a male softball league, he turned that into a feature story.

When a national report revealed that female anchors on television news shows were required to be made up more heavily made up than males, he interviewed a woman who had been born in our county and was at the time a news anchor in Baltimore. He found a local angle to a national story, something he did many times.

When a local man was killed in a mining accident, he pursued the story and learned that safety in the mine was questionable and support for the widow was negligible. We had to run that story through our attorney—and he changed not a word.

Terry was dogged in pursuit of a story.

I remember when Dan Rather of CBS News spoke at Penn State. Terry covered Rather’s speech in an auditorium then walked with Rather to another venue for a news conference. Most reporters would have just gone to the venue. Terry attached himself to Rather—it looked to me as though they were joined at the hip—and interviewed him on the way, even correcting Rather when he was fuzzy on some facts. Terry had done his homework.

He loved politics regardless of party. He was “the consummate apolitical political junkie.” He had an understated aggressive style—I know that’s an oxymoron--backed up by facts, which meant the person he was interviewing couldn’t lie about something. There were no alternative facts in a Terry Dalton story.

He interviewed a lot of national and state political figures. When you go to the reception in McDaniel Lounge later, check out the photos of Terry interviewing various politicians. My favorite is Terry interviewing Jerry Brown. Talk about up close and personal. You’ll see.

Also in those photos is John Anderson, who ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1980. For Terry, it was a great story. I’m sure he would have loved covering Bernie Sanders, whom he had met when he lived in Vermont and Sanders was the mayor of Burlington.

One of the criticisms of the press is that it covers elections like horse races, even when the ballots are being counted and the results are already determined but not yet public and are made public after they are logged in and counted. Sensitive to that, Terry turned the criticism on its head and covered one election from the point of view of how the candidate was reacting to the returns as they slowly arrived at his campaign headquarters and the outcome kept changing. It was a horse race for the candidate even though the polls had closed.

Kathy told me the other day about a self-deprecating story Terry used to tell, that he had learned in ROTC how to take a rifle apart but he never could reassemble it. Maybe not, but he certainly knew how to assemble a set of facts into a good story.
He was a very good deductive thinker. When he was growing up in New Jersey, the family TV went on the blink. This was in the day of vacuum tubes and expensive repair visits. Instead of calling someone, Terry turned on the TV, let the tubes warm up and touched each one—carefully, of course. When he found the tube that was cold, he went to the TV store and bought a new one and replaced the cold one. Problem solved. Repair bill avoided.

Even when he was fighting Alzheimer’s, he continued to be a deductive thinker. About two years ago we had lunch with the family, and Terry and I were reminiscing about people we had worked with 40 years ago. Suddenly, he was stuck for a name. He started going through her attributes: Live wire. Journ student. Italian. And then he said her name. As it was, she wasn’t Italian but her name did end in a vowel. He was not to be denied.

Let me share some comments that others have posted on Facebook or shared with me via email.

Brian Weakland: I'll remember Terry for his passion and joy.  He enjoyed life and enriched those around him.

Robert L. Frick A good man who took the time to help me during my CDT internship, when it wasn't his job. You never forget mentors like that.

Diana Griffith … Terry was my first mentor from the time I was in high school. He was one of my instructors in the Penn State J-school and took the time to write a note of praise while I was writing for The Daily Collegian (student newspaper at Penn State). ... He was a wonderful person.

Bill Wallace … Terry was not much older than the rest of us, but he was always the grown-up in the room. He led by example, although I doubt he realized it. Most of us learned to be better journalists by watching him work, and reading his work. He was a respected colleague and a good man.

Rosa: … As a Collegian reporter, I had covered (a local politician) at the same time Terry covered him for the CDT. I learned so much from asking questions while sitting beside a great reporter. Before I left for Chicago I gave Terry an illustrated copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" ... I told Terry that, like Whitman, he was a scribe of democracy.

(I love that description.) a scribe of democracy

David Morris … Terry and I both arrived in Harrisburg for our respective papers at the same time in 1983. We bonded over baseball and politics. Fittingly, the last time I saw him was a chance meeting in Cooperstown.

Speaking of Cooperstown, Terry and Kathy were married there in 1981. For those of you who don’t follow Terry’s favorite sport, Cooperstown is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But, wait, it gets better. Ever the sports junkie, on their honeymoon in the Bahamas, they met and interviewed Muhammad Ali who was there training for the final fight of his career


Let me close by borrowing a couple of lines from W.H. Auden.

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
Terrence Dalton is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

And so, Terry, from all of your friends, farewell and thank you for being you.

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