How can Bonorden retire?

Published 10:05 am Monday, June 1, 2009

Lee Bonorden. This about says it all, if you know the guy. And who doesn’t? There’s only one Lee Bonorden, which is at once an honest description and expression of relief. Can you imagine what the Herald would be like to have two? Or Austin or Mower County? More to the point, can you imagine what it will now be like not to have this one?

Mr. Bonorden (who ever heard that one?) retires from the Herald after what he claims to be 24 years. If you’re from Adams, he’ll claim he started at age 10. But someone said it’s time to go, and this means it’s time to say good-bye in some appropriate manner.

Columnists don’t usually take on other columnists in the same newspaper. We count on readers to write such letters to the editor, and we ourselves do not write letters to the editor. (I’ve always wondered about those by Luke Blue, Leonard Baker, Lanny Borgman that took jabs at what I wrote.) But there comes a time when wordsmiths need to find the words, craft the phrases, or assume a style to critique, affirm, or get even.

Email newsletter signup

Frequently, I have wanted to shout: Lee, how in the world can you say such outrageous things! Under my breath is enviously, And get away with it?

How? I already stipulated this with the first two words above. He says outrageous things because he is Lee Bonorden, and he gets away with it for the same reason.

He made his new daughter-in-law blush like I’d never seen her blush, and she still speaks to him on occasion.

He makes fools out of public officials, and they clamor for his attention—even when he allows them to take the credit. He belittles little towns, and they think they’ve hit the big time.

This lowly reporter exposes his employer and gets paid for it. When I inquired of one editor about this, he explained: “Lee pretends to work and we pretend to pay him.”

Some former colleagues so fear his sharp pen they can’t even bring themselves around to use the fatal words: “Lee Bonorden.” Once safely in another town, they write nasty letters to the editor and refer to him only as “your Thursday columnist.”

Now, I tell you: That’s a damning insult, if I ever heard one. Next they’re going to complain about “your Monday columnist.”

When the Pulitzer committee offered me its prize for in-depth investigative reporting in the common vernacular, Lee compared his dense, substantial pieces as “silly scribblings.” It takes a Lee Bonorden to do that.

Well, there is a place in any responsible newspaper for silly scribblings, because they can accomplish things impossible for self-imposing, self-important abstract expositions. At least they can when the byline is “Lee Bonorden.”

As Dick Nixon famously said, You’re not going to have us to kick around anymore. And we’re going to miss it.

God bless you, Lee. Indeed.