hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

April 18, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: Barney Gallagher never drifted from the news

Tom Vartabedian

They called him Scoop.

Not because Barney Gallagher enjoyed his ice cream — which he did — but because he was known throughout the local industry as someone who helped himself to the news wherever it occurred.

At all times of day, in the turbulence of night, Scoop Gallagher not only discovered the news. It usually found him.

The industry lost one of its finest, a man who put service above self, who wrote the truth and sometimes suffered the consequences. A consummate journalist who burned both ends of the candle and drowned himself in his own incandescence.

Seventy-five years of dedicated service spoke volumes for the man. He never let it rest, even if his police radio jarred him loose at 3 a.m. for an accident call.

Off he'd run with camera in hand, a horrific scene awaiting him, cars collided, bodies mangled, a spot news scene ready to hit the press.

He plied the trade, badgering police investigators until an ID came forward on the victims. Cops knew Barney. So did ambulance drivers and EMTs. They were well acquainted with the durable side of this reporter.

People like me who came to the newspaper long after Barney had arrived looked up to the man as some iconic journalist who had black ink running through his veins.

As good a police reporter as Barney was, the man was even better as an editorial writer. You'd find him pecking away behind his old Royal in a back office of The Gazette during its glory years on Merrimack Street.

There, he forged a personal testament to Haverhill, whether it was an attack on substandard educational practices, political innuendoes, or the serenity of an Arbor Day planting. He particularly favored the school children and the elderly, but never forgot those in between.

His best stories had a bit of a bite to them.

Because Barney was the ultimate historian, John Greenleaf Whittier never lacked exposure. Nor the library's special collections, the Buttonwoods Museum, and any other organization that cultivated this city's humble past or buoyant future.

His honesty and integrity amplified his humanitarian pursuits. Barney was a man for all seasons whose infectious grin could coax a smile against all odds.

Who would ever forget the seed he had planted with sidekick Fred Malcolm that ultimately turned Haverhill into an All-America City? Or the manner in which he helped enhance this city into one of the more desirable places to live a year after it floundered in the ratings.

Speaking generally, no man appears great to his contemporaries — a trap set by familiarity. To us, he was simply "Barney." The night he was inducted into the New England Press Association Hall of Fame, a bunch of us rode the limo with him into Boston and he was as casual as a bedbug.

Had you given him a good editorial that night, he would have negated such limelight. In the end, he was humbled by it. Who wouldn't be after 75 years of unprecedented journalism? Say what you want about role models like Horace Greeley and Joseph Pulitzer, two of the greatest American editors of our time. They were Barney's heroes but he was ours.

Over the four decades I worked with him, I came to know him as a prolific articulist, author and commentator on one side and as a devoted family man, community activist and outgoing personality on the other.

It was that way from the get-go, when I first walked into The Gazette looking for a job. He was one of the first to approach me, putting the jitters to rest and giving me a dose of confidence.

Twenty-five years later, there he was again, welcoming my daughter to the paper, fresh out of journalism school and looking to start her career. Truth of the matter was, Barney made it a ritual to welcome every cub reporter.

Through his inspiration, off she went in later years to become city editor of The Newburyport News and managing editor of The Newburyport Magazine.

Scorers of young journalists came under his wing, him as a trustworthy guide. He gave you his time and his experience, valuable tools not found in a college text.

You would often see him lunching with Jim Simmons, another esteemed cohort. Together, they would solve the problems of the press, secure the city from its loopholes, speak great words and suffer noble sorrows.

He once gave me a great piece of advice and I've heeded it all along. "Nobody remembers what you wrote last week," he told me. "It's the next story that counts. Seize the moment."

It is the task of this industry Barney so dutifully served to remember him for the examples he set and for the legacy he leaves behind.

Well done good and faithful servant.

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.