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A lot was happening in 1973 as a fresh-from-college English major named Curtiss Clark arrived for a job interview at The Newtown Bee. And while all the national and global news was left to colleagues in other outlets and larger media organizations, Mr Clark dutifully handled reporting and photographing newsworthy happenings for readers in Newtown and, for a period of time, in other local communities where The Bee Publishing Company maintained local weekly newspapers.
On May 20, Mr Clark will transition into retirement, heading out of that same front door at 5 Church Hill Road that he entered for his job interview nearly 43 years before. Upon his departure, staff writer Nancy K. Crevier will take on editor responsibilities.
According to Bee Publisher R. Scudder Smith, when it came time to promote someone to a leadership role, Mr Clark was the logical candidate. From day one, Mr Smith said, “Curt engaged himself in virtually every area of company operations, including working in the press room.”
Over the decades and in the course of his promotions — first to managing editor in the 1980s, and then becoming, nine years ago, the first person outside The Bee’s Smith family to serve as editor since the late 1880s — Mr Clark has continued to inform, and occasionally ruffle a few feathers, with his award-winning “Editorial Ink Drops,” while entertaining regular readers who enjoyed the observational musings and photography of his “Field Notes” column.
Mr Clark more recently gained great respect among an international audience of colleagues and peers because of his role helping lead the newspaper staff and the community through the dark days that began on the fateful morning of December 14, 2012, when 20 children and six educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
He was honored with a 2013 New England Newspaper & Press Association (NENPA) Allan B. Rogers Award for his editorial “Answering For Our Town,” following the Sandy Hook tragedy. He also conceived and led a team effort that captured a NENPA Publick Occurrences Award for The Bee’s first special edition, published just three days after the Sandy Hook shooting.
In February 2016, Mr Clark was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame, joining more than 100 distinguished colleagues including Pulitzer-winning Walter “Robbie” Robertson who led The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team.
“It is going to be very different for all of us at The Bee to not see Curt around, checking all the responsibilities that fall into the lap of an editor,” Mr Smith remarked. “We are going to miss him, his dry humor, and his schedule that you could set your watch by. It has been a long and wonderful friendship for me, and I wish him the very best from the Smith family and the entire staff.”
Making A Difference
Bee Business Manager Sherri (Smith) Baggett has known Curt since her childhood when he came to work at the paper. In her nomination letter to NENPA’s Hall of Fame committee, she wrote: “Curtiss has given The Newtown Bee over 42 years of his life. The culminations of his work ethic and eloquent writings have set a standard in the company that is appreciated, not only by our staff, but our readership.”
“His writings and editorials have made a difference of how our newspaper is viewed by our neighbors and townspeople; positive or negative. He claims the attention of his audience, which to me is extraordinary to itself,” Ms Baggett stated. “I am happy for Curtiss to continue his life beyond The Newtown Bee. I am sure it will not be long after his retirement we will be quoted as saying, ‘Well, how do you think Curtiss would have handled it?’ because whether we realize it now or not, Curtiss has filled many more shoes than just editor — and has made more than his share of extraordinary contributions to our office and our community.”
Ms Crevier, who has been part of The Bee’s staff since 2005 primarily as a features writer, acknowledged the challenges of taking over as editor, but said Mr Clark has mentored her well in anticipation of the transition.
“I loved meeting members of the community and getting to know the special places in Newtown, and I am excited to take this position at The Bee, continuing my connection to the community,” she said. “Curtiss has been a mentor and a friend, doling out wit and wisdom every day. He has showed us all what leadership means, and how to stay focused in the worst of times.”
Ms Crevier said Mr Clark’s 43 years of local newspaper experience instilled “an insight into the heart of this town that he has graciously shared, not only with readers, but with every member of The Newtown Bee staff.”
“I count myself fortunate to have stood in his shadow, and I would not dream of trying to fill his shoes,” she said. “I have shoes that fit me, shoes that know the paths I have walked, and the life experiences that have led me here. What I will do is study the footprints of the editors before me who have paved the way, so that this paper can continue on the solid path it has trod for nearly 140 years.”
A number of local officials also expressed their fondness and admiration for the local newspaper editor, including First Selectman Pat Llodra.
“The first thing I do each week, when picking up the latest edition of The Bee, is to read the editorial comments made by Curtiss Clark,” Mrs Llodra said. “Typically, I first scan the text to locate the one or two statements that capture the essence of his commentary. Often, critical points of the lesson are found at the end of the essay, but not always. I have learned to take care in my read to be sure that I notice the nuances and hints embedded in his text.”
The first selectman observed that Mr Clark’s editorials “are not typically benign, nor are they meant to be.”
“They are typically honest, clearly written, use precise language, and provide a well-crafted assessment of social and political behaviors,” the first selectman said. “The power of the editorial is found in its ability to serve as a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly, warts and all. Curtiss Clark has served our community well. Not only has he helped us see where we might have taken a wrong turn, often he has reminded us that Newtown is a good community, that our core values are strong. Thank you Curtiss for caring about Newtown, for helping us see our strengths, and for occasionally shining a small light on the errors of our way.”
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky shared his thoughts upon learning of Mr Clark’s impending retirement, observing, “There are many things that make our home town what it is, a place we can all be proud to call home. But nothing quite says Newtown as well as The Bee.
“Every week, Newtown [depends] on its publication for news, local insights, goings-on, ‘The Letter Hive’ and especially for the Page One wisdom of a quiet man with an unreadable poker face,” Rep Bolinsky continued. “To most of us, The Bee has always been Curtiss Clark. For nearly 43 years, this quiet man in his glass office has led by dignified example — thoughtful and balanced; principled and dependable; a voice we could all trust. Thank you Curtiss for your contributions to making Newtown what it is. I wish you the best in your new adventures but know, journalistically, your retirement will take a little getting used to. Godspeed.”
Generations Of Fans
Selectman and former first selectman Herb Rosenthal said both he and his father Jack, who also served as first selectman, enjoyed and depended on and looked forward to their weekly local newspaper’s arrival.
“I certainly appreciate the fact that Curtiss always endorsed me when I ran for first selectman over the years,” he said. “Beyond that I always enjoyed reading his editorials. I agreed with most of them, but even when I didn’t agree with them, I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into them. He always made a good point and they were always thought-provoking.”
Mr Rosenthal said he always found Mr Clark to be a very fair person and not biased in any way.
“I enjoyed the many occasions when I stopped into The Bee to talk with Curtiss, or when we’d bump into each other as we took our walks on Main Street. And even into his later years, my father always loved reading The Newtown Bee and appreciated Curtiss’s comments,” he added.
Newtown Borough Warden, former selectman and current Board of Finance Chairman James Gaston, Sr, described Mr Clark as “our town’s gentle icon for longer than the 25 years our family has lived on Main Street.”
“He has shared his thoughtful visions of progress and preservation. In Curtiss, the people of Newtown were gifted a poet of genius and humanity in both his literary craftsmanship and steadfast management of our town Bee,” Mr Gaston said. “Thank you Curtiss for each week pinpointing with dignity the issues at hand, and challenging our hearts and minds. And beyond Newtown, congratulations on your national accomplishments such as the National Newspaper Association awards for editorial writing and the 2013 New Yorker Magazine article ‘Local Story.’ Your presence will be missed.”
Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob also offered parting sentiments and best wishes.
“Curtiss Clark has shaped the editorial policy of The Newtown Bee for [more than] 40 years with love for Newtown, love for the truth, and with wit and honesty,” Ms Jacob said. “His legacy will live on in the people who have worked with him all these years and in The Bee. Best wishes to him.”
Mr Smith said he was looking forward to working with his incoming editor, Ms Crevier.
“I am delighted that Nancy has accepted the duties as editor of The Bee, and I know that it has fallen into strong hands,” Mr Smith said. “She has been with us for 11 years, written countless articles, handled many of the routine duties of publishing a paper, and has the background and energy to keep the ball rolling. She is the seventh editor of our 139-year-old newspaper and the first woman editor, which is a credit to her leadership. Nancy has a head full of ideas and I am looking forward to working with her.”
Ms Baggett added, “Change has always been difficult for me, but I feel this next transition of editors of my family’s newspaper, The Newtown Bee, will be smooth and seamless,” she said. “Our entire staff at The Bee Publishing Company supports Nancy and her new endeavor, and our strong editorial staff will continue our thorough coverage of Newtown. Nancy and her husband, Phil, have raised their children in Newtown, know our town, and understand our community; I am pleased she is at the helm.”
Reflecting on his many relationships with Bee colleagues and the 11 years he has worked alongside Ms Crevier, Mr Clark said, “I am happy to know as I step away from my duties at The Bee, that the work will go on without missing a beat, thanks to the deep experience and capabilities of the newspaper’s editorial staff.
“I am confident that Nancy Crevier, whom I greatly admire and respect, will continue and build on The Bee’s long history of community service,” he continued. “Her voice has already been heard frequently in the front page editorials over the past year, and her fairness, good judgment, and remarkable communications skills will only enhance and advance the newspaper’s coverage now that she is in a leadership role. Newtown and The Bee are lucky to have her at their service.”
Finally, on his own departure, Mr Clark’s comments were typically thoughtful and to the point:
“I started work at The Bee nearly 43 years ago as a kid just out of school, knowing that I had a lot to learn about journalism and the community I was serving. I’m leaving this job with exactly the same sense: there is so much more to know about this profession and this remarkable town. But it is time for me to leave that mission to others,” he said.
“I have been gratified to learn that excellence is not a function of the size of the stage you are on or the arena in which you compete,” Mr Clark concluded. “Community journalism, especially for independent community news organizations, is as dynamic and vibrant a working environment as any professional can ask for. Doing it in a town like Newtown, where people are interesting and engaged, is just icing on the cake.”