How serendipitous that my last column as editor of LEO would be the week of Father’s Day.
These personal narratives have, of course, always been meaningful to my dad and me — and hopefully will be, one day, for J.D. as well. Yet, more than any other topic or political issue, it was this annual column — recognizing the joys and adventures of being a dad — that most connected with readers over the years.
So, this is likely the last time a Yarmuth will write an editor’s note for LEO (unless something goes terribly wrong in J.D.’s life), and it’s about my dad, this paper and our connection with this community — as it should be.
He started The Louisville Eccentric Observer in 1990. His weekly column was almost always among the first few pages, welcoming readers to that week’s issue, until he decided to run for Congress in 2006.
Still, despite his regular presence atop the masthead and quasi-local fame, LEO never felt like his paper. It always felt more like it belonged to the community.
Why was that?
Perhaps because he was always having so much fun. (That can’t be work…)
Perhaps because each week’s cover looked like the ghosts of Hunter S. Thompson, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol collaborated on a ransom note.
Perhaps because of the wacky parties LEO used to throw. (One time, at a Halloween Party, they ordered pizza delivery. When the pizza deliveryman rang the doorbell, columnist Carl Brown answered the door dressed as a pizza deliveryman… who had just been in a car wreck, bloodied and bruised with a steering wheel hanging around his neck.)
Whatever it was, I could see my dad being part of LEO… but not owning this paper. He’s a clean-cut, buttoned-up — albeit nerdy — guy. He was a golfer, not a punk rocker.
But, it wasn’t until I became owner and editor of LEO that I realized why it always felt like it belonged to the community:
It was because the people my dad worked with were so freakin’ brilliant, creative, funny and fearless (…and strange). Because they were honest and didn’t give a damn what people thought. They were the literary, eccentric embodiment of Louisville culture — from mainstream to underground. All of which was by design, as he laid out in his pilot column, titled, “Howdy”: “What we hope and believe will happen is that many of you will be inspired to write for LEO, that LEO will be a community forum in which ideas can be exchanged and debated in a FREE medium.”
So, here I am, almost seven years after buying the paper my dad started, and it still doesn’t feel like mine… It never has!
I contributed my weekly column, maybe some Staff Picks… just like everyone else. Occasionally, between deadlines, we’d engage in debates — sometimes heated — over journalism, story pitches, cover concepts, headlines and the inane nuances of AP Style grammar. But rarely, if ever, did I “win” those debates, and I never shut them down — they were my favorite part of working at LEO.
I only wanted to be a part of LEO, not own it.
As I wrote in my first column, titled, “Not My Father’s LEO”: “My promise to you [the community] is that we will work as hard as possible to be unpredictable, uncomfortable and, well… Eccentric.”
Seven years later, I can’t say how successful we were — give us a break, though, it was hard to be more unpredictable or uncomfortable than the last seven years — but we worked harder than I ever imagined possible.
It was also more fun and rewarding than I ever imagined.
One final thought, before I turn things over:
One night, well before my time at LEO, I was having a particularly tough time — a slight, late-20’s identity crisis. My dad, supportive as always, told me that night that he recognizes he leaves big shoes to fill.
Well, dad, I don’t know about the size of the shoes, but you left some big footprints. Thanks for leading the way, and letting me follow along for a while.
Happy Father’s Day.