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JACK WEATHERLY: Greenberg’s end


This is not the way it should end.

He should die with his fingers on the keyboard, producing another rhapsody. Paul Greenberg was (a tense I can’t fully believe) a writer, not a pianist, but there is absolutely music in his prose. He couldn’t live without his lifeblood – ink. That was what he dipped his pen in for 60 years. But now, it seems, he has called it quits at 81. Here is the lede of a piece published on Sept. 23 with the headline “The last column (I promise!)”
“It’s one thing to bore ever indulgent readers, but quite another when a columnist begins to bore himself. Despite all the fabricated hullabaloo he may try to stir up about his last column, it’s become clear enough that it’s time – way past time, really, to throw in the towel.” Uh, don’t believe a word of that false humility. The word from his wife and a close colleague at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette affirm the veracity of that column (as best they can). Seems the man who wrote so many things for immortality is claiming mortality before his time. I had halfway expected that my next trip to Little Rock would be to attend Paul’s funeral. I was prepared to brush up on the Mourners Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the deceased. But praise be! He is alive! He wrote in 2015 of a malady that struck him and severely limited his physical mobility, putting him on a walker and starting him on this trip to “30,” the end of the story. Maybe, but his mind was as swift and agile as ever. He had won the Pulitzer prize for editorial writing in 1969, when he was editorial page editor for The Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial. And he should have had another in 1980, only to have it snatched away from the committee who selected him and given to another. “That was my Pulitzer!” he told me of the award given to Meg Greenfield of The Washington Post. No, he did not upbraid the Pulitzer organization or give Greenfield a piece of his mind. He was not one to waste his words. “That’s the way the game is played,” he told me many years later. He played the game almost literally 24/7. And his columns (not editorials) were syndicated nationwide. Many years earlier, I had worked with Paul at The Commercial. He took an older brother attitude toward me. I wanted to write opinion pieces. He offered to let me write a once-a-week column. I turned it down. I thought that was condescending, though certainly, in retrospect, it was generous. Foolish lad. But I stayed my erratic, and sometimes rewarding, course in newspapering – a word that has nearly lost any real meaning. My course took me from Pine Bluff to Little Rock to Atlanta, to Mississippi and back to Little Rock. Paul simply moved up the road from Pine Bluff to Little Rock. That was in 1992 after the Arkansas Democrat won the newspaper war and became the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. As it turns out, we wound up on the same paper again. wPaul offered me an opinion page job after I had been Democrat-Gazette business editor for a decade and a couple years as reporter/columnist on the news side, I would have had to take a considerable pay cut. I was tempted to take him up on the offer. But again, I didn’t. Maybe Paul will reconsider his decision to call it quits and say it ain’t so. But, sadly, I doubt it. » Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.


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