For 25 years, I’d worked shoulder to shoulder with the great editor and now she was leaving and I found myself bereft of words.

You always want to find profound lines or a daring display of affection, like B.J. Hunnicutt bidding farewell to Hawkeye with an array of stones.

Some people manage it quite well, I know. But not me. When it comes to goodbyes, spoken words fail me. How to adequately express a quarter-century’s worth of feelings when you’re standing in a dimly lit parking lot surrounded by the wailing sounds of a Lewiston night?

So in the end, I didn’t even try. A long hug, some awkward words and then she was off, out of the Sun Journal forever and, in a significant way, out of my life.

Fitting, I suppose. For words alone cannot describe the impact the editor Karen Kreworuka has had on my career and on my broader life beyond the office walls. It is almost certain that without Karen’s intervention, my name would have vanished from the Sun Journal pages many years ago.

It was Karen who decided I should write a weekly column, and it was she who pursued the idea until I succumbed with a sigh and started writing.

Once, on a stormy winter night when I was tasked with writing another weather story (Karen reviled them nearly as much as I do), I said to her, “You know, the way its blowing out there, the snow drifts look to me like the bones of long-dead dinosaurs.”

“So?” Karen said in that direct manner she has. “Write it that way.”

And with that permission in hand, I described the drifting snow as it appeared in my imagination, a style of writing news I would embrace forevermore.

Karen knows words the way a miser knows money. She knows how they are properly used, yet she’s also wise enough to understand when those rigid rules should be bent, just a smidge, mind you, for creativity’s sake.

We could have long discussions, Karen and I, about whether a certain sentence should be broken in half by a period or allowed to ramble on. But that friendship transcended the trappings of a merely professional relationship.

When I was struck low, and there were many of these occasions in the early days, Karen would check in on me at home and offer up encouragement from her vast treasury of words. When misfortune came her way, I grieved with her, and in place of elusive sentiments, I’d leave trinkets upon her doorstep.

We weren’t just colleagues, we were comrades. Almost everybody with a job has at least one workplace friend like that. At the Sun Journal, there was a time when we were blessed with a whole cluster of them. For that glorious period, we were a team of buddies who happened to be tasked with ferreting out news — a task so fun and exciting it was hard to call it “work,” and keep a straight face.

In that golden era, Karen was a city editor, which made her that friend whom all the others listened to when news was hot and things needed to be done. We might complain and grouse and whine about our assignments, but Karen would swat us on the noses with a rolled up paper and send us off with notebooks stuffed in our pockets and pencils behind our ears. It was a delight covering news for Karen because she’d been on the street herself and she knew how stories ought to be approached, tackled and wrestled onto the page.

And she was a decidedly old-school presence. If I swore in frustration over a difficult source, she didn’t shoo me off to the human resource department, she swore right back in the spirit of solidarity. If she was going to make changes to my copy, she’d explain exactly why. And then, after I was done ranting and railing about the editorial process, she’d make me hack a few excessive adverbs from my story. Karen never used the editor’s pen just because she could. She edited to make stories better. To me, she made EVERYTHING better.

But ah, alas, workplace friendships, like those in the real world, are always subject to evolution and upheaval. One by one, workplace friends began to leave us. Editors moved away and took other news jobs. Reporters decided to chuck journalism altogether and went off on other careers.

In most recent years, the ghastly game of attrition kicked into high gear. Editors, reporters, designers we’ve worked with for decades, they vanished from their desks before we could get our minds around their departures. All of those people we’d come to know better than many of our own kin were out of our lives, never to return.

We’d have parties for them in the middle of the newsroom and we’d gush our promises to stay in touch even though our professional links had been severed.

“This isn’t goodbye,” we’d mutter, and maybe we even believed it for a time.

But words are wind. In the pragmatic sides of our souls, we know such lofty promises of future meetings and enduring bonds almost always prove hollow. And even if we do get together now and then for coffee or shots of Jagermeister, it will never be the same as it was before. What was once the grand environment of a thriving work relationship can never be recreated on some rickety bar stool or in a Dunkin’ booth.

Work friendships are, in a manner of speaking, more deeply rooted than friendships formed on the outside. Office relationships have parameters that keep the kinship neat and orderly. You are together on a rigid schedule, your friendship tracked on a clock much like your labor. Your relationship has so many rules there’s a whole policy book to guide it.

I’m absolutely certain that Karen and I will see each other again even now that she has put the newspaper at her back. We may even see each other often. But it will never be as it once was, and it would be folly to believe it could be so.

I won’t be gleefully gliding to her desk anymore to say: “I just saw the damnedest thing on Bates Street involving a prostitute and a shopping cart. Do you think this is news?”

I won’t be calling her from a crime scene at midnight — calling in part out of duty but mostly because I’m excited and want to share my news with Bawse — and babbling: “Holy cow, you should have seen it! The guy’s underpants caught fire but he kept running anyway! He looked just like the Olympic torch if the Olympic torch’s underpants had caught fire! I’ll be filing a good 100 inches on this, Bawse! And photos! You might want to clear all of B1 just for this story!”

Karen got excited when I did, or at least she pretended to. Then in her calm way she would gently guide me back down to earth, advising me how much space was available and how soon that story had to be written — if I had any hopes of seeing it in the morning paper.

And woe to me, Karen will not write a tagline at the bottom of this column and will never write one again. Those taglines, witty and profound, were almost always better than the column itself and they gave me a reason to read my own work.

She was the B.J. Hunnicutt to my Hawkeye, in spite of her gender. And though I feel her loss keenly, I could find nothing suitable to express this fact when I bid her farewell in that cold and lonely parking lot behind the place where our friendship had bloomed for so many glorious seasons.

For the heart might be a poet when emotions inspire it to be, but the mouth is not always brave enough to make the translations. Not my mouth, anyway. And so as reporters are trained to do, I’ll stand aside in humility and let a more eloquent source do the talking.

“How lucky I am,” the wise Winnie the Pooh was said to have uttered, “to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

And for me, that about says it.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer and far from alone in his admiration and respect for Karen, an editor whose presence will forever remain in the newsroom. Email him at [email protected] 

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