Spot on

I had a great dad who taught me most of what I know about being a good, decent American citizen. But I’ve been blessed with a good handful of other men who helped shape me. None more than the late James “Spot” O’Donnell, who passed away a couple of years ago after getting the absolute most out of his 96 years of life. Spot was what I fondly call “A 365-Day-A-Year Irishman,” and so I cannot help but think of him as St. Patrick’s Day approaches.
Spot was head pressman at the Sunday Dispatch, the newspaper where I worked full-time from age 17 to 40 when I left to become a college professor. Even then, Spot offered valuable advice. When I told him what I was doing, he said, “Well, they say you never really know a job until you’ve taught it.” That was more than 30 years ago and I often think of those words when I learn yet another thing about the field of journalism.
Another Spot lesson that stuck to my ribs is “the amount of stuff you can get done while you’re doing nothing.” When he first told me that, he offered an example. When Jimmy (his son) was watching TV, Spot might dump a box of drill bits in his lap and hand him a file. Sharpening drill bits was something Jimmy could do while he was doing nothing, which tells you what Spot thought of watching TV.
And how did that apply to me, the managing editor of the newspaper? We were standing in the reception area of the newspaper building and Spot said when I’d be walking back to the composing room in a few minutes, surely there was something that needed to be carried back there. “Never walk through the building emptied handed,” he said. And I never again did. Even when walking through my own home.
Jimmy tagged his dad with the nickname “Tough Guy,” and that Spot surely was. Not in his dealings with people, mind you. In that he was a gentle, loving soul. But when it came to tackling a tough job, let’s just say the nickname fit.
Spot had an expression that I quote often. When talking about how things were done in the old days, Spot would say, “That’s when the ships were wood, and the men were iron.”
I, myself, am no “tough guy,” but when I remember Spot’s words I find I am tougher than I think.

Ed Ackerman