My Turn

By Pat Gee

Saturday, October 16, 1999

Growing up at
the Star-Bulletin

We learned lessons in hard work,
passion and responsibility


Pat Gee is a Star-Bulletin editorial assistant. Her commentary was written before a preliminary injunction was granted Wednesday to temporarily halt closure of the Star-Bulletin. My Turn is a periodic column written by Star-Bulletin staff members.

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years The Star-Bulletin has been a member of my family since I was born. It fed, clothed and sheltered us. It nourished our views about life, and set a standard of journalism I aspired to meet.

My parents, Bill and Harriet Gee, worked for the Star-Bulletin and were household names to many readers by the end of their long careers.

Now with the imminent destruction of this 117-year-old institution, I feel like I did when my Dad died 10 years ago -- lost, empty, filled with disbelief that he would no longer be there. A pillar had been removed from my foundation.

When a beloved parent dies, especially one you tried to emulate, you are still aware of his presence in small, intangible ways. It was easy to remember the things he used to do and say when I moved back home to live after being in Kona for some 20 years. I also started working as a clerk five years ago in the same place my parents had walked the halls for about 40 years of their lives.

Every time I came across a letter addressed to Bill or Harriet Gee (some mailing lists are rarely updated) a little smile would cross my lips, and I would murmur, "Hi, Dad/Mom."

Whenever an oldtimer would ask, "Are you Bill Gee's daughter?" or ask how Mom was enjoying her retirement, they'd often tell me how much they liked and missed my parents. I would be filled with warm pride and hope that one day I'd be able to follow in their footsteps.

That's why it was always so very special when a veteran reporter or editor would say to me, "It's nice to see the Gee byline again -- good job!" when one of my free-lance stories would be published.

Keppie Altonn, whose mom is Helen, veteran reporter extraordinaire, summed it up by saying that we were practically raised at the Bulletin. It's not so much that we hung out at the building, but we got to know the real people behind their famous bylines when we were taken to staff parties and various functions. My two sisters and I also got the inside scoop on what my parents thought of office politics during their usual pre-dinner discussion over highballs.

And there were endless debates over the proper meaning and use of words in certain contexts. Dinner finally being ready was the only thing that ended these arguments, er, discussions.

But those debates instilled within us through osmosis -- no, it was more like being hit over the head -- a respect for the importance of the printed word and its power to affect lives, emotions and society as a whole. I grew up wanting to be a part of that world, wanting to touch readers' hearts and minds.

As a girl, I enjoyed hanging around the newsroom, sitting at absent reporters' desks, waiting for Mom to finish work. She was a different mom than the one we knew at home. Her face and tone of voice were dead serious as she pounded out dramatic courtroom stories under deadline pressure, while we nagged at her for something to eat or do. Today she can still come up with a tone we call her "Harriet Gee voice" when she means business.

Whenever I walked into the city room back then, I knew it was an important place. I could feel it in the quiet tension of reporters hunched over their typewriters in concentration, trying to block out the rest of the world. Always in the background was the clackety-clack of teletype machines.

The room had a certain smell, too, of soft black-leaded pencils, blank sheets of newsprint for scratching notes or typing stories, and pots of glue, used to patch stories together.

One of my favorite things was to go to the backshop with Dad, where the presses were roaring full blast and the particles of ink visibly thickened the air. As all Palama Boys tend to be their entire lives, Dad was considered one of the guys even though he was a writer. He could read upside down and backward with the best of the pressmen.

During the newspaper strike more than 30 years ago, my sisters and I walked the picket line one hot, humid day in matching muumuus. For that one day's "work" we reaped many benefits; we were blessed with a very comfortable lifestyle and felt our futures were wide open.

But as we all grew older, we discovered that real life is not what dreams are made of. That parents we love and lean on pass away. That quite often the good guys do, in fact, finish last.

Thus is the fate of an incredibly talented staff of people who are dedicated to doing their best work for the public good. They are being put out on the street because a faceless, far away group of investors got greedy. What a terrible waste.

I feel especially bad for the reporters and editors who have been with the newspaper for years and have made it what it is today. You couldn't find another Helen Altonn, Mary Adamski, Bud Smyser, Gregg Kakesako, Rod Ohira, or Corky. There are so many other valuable staffers of all ages whose names I hate not being able to mention for lack of space. You couldn't buy the connections and good reputations they've built up through the years.

It's a crying shame that the Star-Bulletin, which has served the public with great integrity for more than 100 years, can be wiped out without any remorse by its owners with the aid of a competitor that has never equaled our quality and professionalism.

As staff members of the Star-Bulletin, we are confident that we and others before us fought the good fight and kept the faith. And that no one can buy.

Shutdown announcement

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