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Swift: How the late Forum columnist Bob Lind taught me that every story mattered

I had formed this idea that all reporters needed to be cynical and hard-charging, yet Bob was nothing like that. He wrote wonderful stories that readers loved and he dealt with even the most challenging personalities in the newsroom with grace and patience. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t cynical or hard-charging either. I figured if Bob could find a place here, maybe I could too.

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“Bob has a serenity about him. He seems mild-mannered, but he has a strong sense of faith and work ethic," Jack Zaleski says of his longtime friend and coworker, Bob Lind. David Samson / The Forum

I still remember the first time I met Bob Lind.

It was 1986 and I was the greenest of greenhorns, just starting my first day as a lifestyle clerk at The Forum.

The newsroom terrified me. This was the ’80s, so people dressed up. Everyone looked like the “Working Girl” version of Sigourney Weaver or the “Wall Street” version of Michael Douglas to me.

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The newsroom was businesslike and quiet, as reporters huddled over big, humming Video Display Terminals to pound out their stories. Editors, mostly male, sat in corner offices and chain-smoked while talking on the phone. Everyone seemed to be on a mission.

What business did I have here? I knew so little. I was terrified every time the phone on my desk rang. How would I ever figure out the hundreds of style rules and guidelines and deadlines that governed The Forum's Lifestyle and Entertainment sections back then? Surely I would be fired.

Through this all, I remember meeting Bob Lind for the first time. He greeted me with a friendly voice and a warm smile, which immediately put me at ease. He asked me where I was from and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say — ME, an insignificant little nobody who had to look up everything in the AP Stylebook.

Whenever I had a question and was too embarrassed to ask my editor, I would ask Bob. He was always kind and patient. I had formed this idea that all reporters needed to be cynical and hard-charging, yet Bob was nothing like that. He wrote wonderful stories that readers loved and he dealt with even the most challenging personalities in the newsroom with grace and patience. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t cynical or hard-charging either. I figured if Bob could find a place here, maybe I could too.

I learned some other important things from Bob. One was the importance of discipline and hard work. It became a common sight to see Bob whizzing by with his hand wrapped around a Styrofoam cup of the newsroom's barely potable vending-machine coffee. That meant he was getting ready to write, which he would proceed to do with a focus that was inspiring.

Back in the days before laptops and tablets, a reporter had to wait until they were in the newsroom to really start writing in earnest. I was always impressed how Bob would go out on a day trip to Buxton or Devils Lake, and still come back that evening to go through his notebooks and type out all of his notes. That would be the last thing I wanted to do after a long day of interviewing and traveling, but Bob did this many times. He seemed to know that if he organized all that information while it was still fresh in his mind, it would make it that much easier to write the next day.

Another thing I admired about him was his faith. In an environment where one editor might be cursing a blue streak and the cops reporter might be hiding their horror over a grisly crime beneath gallows humor, it couldn't be easy to be a person of faith. Every day, we saw things that tested faith: an abducted child, senseless murders, a deadly fire.

But Bob's belief never seemed to waver. His connection to a Higher Power was so strong, yet he wore it in such a quiet way. He didn't preach at people or judge them. He just humbly lived his faith — trying to be his best self every day, praising people when they wrote a good story, greeting everyone he walked past with a genuine smile.

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Bob loved to tell people's stories. So it was no surprise that when he “retired” in 1998, it was pretty much a ceremonial gesture. He would continue writing “Neighbors” columns for the next two decades. As industrious and disciplined as always, he got so much mail and produced stories so efficiently that he had completed columns in the hopper for six months in advance. No story was too small or inconsequential; he believed everyone who took the time to write to him deserved a mention. He made people feel like they mattered, which doesn't happen often enough these days. So he kept relaying every story with a clarity, dignity and respect that never waned.

I think what I miss most about Bob — besides the goodness of the man himself — is that he represented better times. He reminds me of what newsrooms were like before we were overrun with bots, trolls and opinions presented as news. He represents a simpler, sweeter type of community news-gathering, when you would drive to a tiny town and devote a whole day to talking to someone who had a big sheet music collection, and then, afterward, stop by the local Dairy Queen for a cup of coffee and a cone on your way home.

When I emailed Chuck Klosterman , the well-known author who worked alongside Bob on The Forum's features team in the '90s, to tell him that "the nicest man in journalism" was no longer with us, his reply was apt: “Well, the world just got slightly worse.”

It did.

Bob made us all a little bit better.

He will be missed.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist. landscape

Related Topics: FAMILY
Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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