“The only way to truly better oneself is to include in your inner circle people smarter and more talented than you are.”
I said that for the first time to someone when talking about Tom Lindley.
Some stories seemingly have no beginning, but they all have an end.
Jack Lindley was my teammate for most of my Little League career. In many of those games he was the pitcher and I the catcher. Jack’s big brother, Tommy, was our most vocal and supportive fan. Well, OK, perhaps second to my mother.
I was most fortunate to be in the position one day that I could let Tom and many others know what a fan of his I was. Even more fortunate — we became friends again as adults.
I hadn’t seen or talked to Tom much when he was in Alabama having an enormously successful life as a respected journalist. Sports might have been his first writing gig — but politics was his passion. And after he came back to partially own, publish and edit his hometown newspaper where he first started — our community was his great love.
Upon his return to take over the Jeffersonville Evening News (what we all called it back then), I asked to meet him for lunch. I told him I wanted to write a newspaper column. I had written feature articles and covered an occasional news event as a freelancer. Tom knew I could write. Tom knew I was not a columnist sitting at that table. I think Tom also knew instinctively that he could mentor me to become a weekly columnist.
I have known a lot of smart people. I have known just a few whom I consider intellectuals. Tom Lindley was an intellectual. I always kind of felt my IQ go up when we had a discussion. Rare was the time that we didn’t laugh out loud — at life, at the world, at ourselves — during conversations. Mostly Tom and I laughed a lot about ourselves.
I once received a community service award for writing and Tom was there to graciously introduce me and say overly nice things about me. I rewarded him by telling the audience of the nickname he had in journalism classes, “Typo Tommy!”
There was an evening when Tom was named “Man of the Year!” Knowing Tommy and his humility, I called him the next morning and asked how he enjoyed last night. “Lindon, it was the most uncomfortable thing for me to sit in a room of people you respect and hear them say nice things about you.”
Tom had that special thing a lot of people don’t have — likability. Tom had a likability factor that was off the charts. I often felt like Tom was my best friend. I think Tom made many friends feel that way. And I certainly mean that in the most literal sense. He was never pretentious or fake. He was as genuine a person as I have ever known. Humble but not insecure.
Tom called me one morning when I was still working in the corporate world very early on in my column days. I had written an opinion piece that the subject apparently did not approve of in no uncertain terms. He said, Mayor Galligan just walked into my office and wanted to know, “Who in the hell is Lincoln Todd!” I am pretty sure that is what I want carved on my tombstone.
It is so hard to describe the relationship between anyone who writes for publication and their editor. Tom and I were symbiotic from the start. We never had one unkind word between us. Upon more than one occasion he would publish an unpopular opinion of mine. I remember after a couple of them it seemed like it was Tom and me against the world. Tom was a loyal friend who always had my back.
Tom was a liberal. He was proud of being one; however, many of his close friends who respected him were the farthest thing from that.
He was passionate. On more than one occasion I worried about his passion exploding — and occasionally it did. We discussed that. Ironically, I might sometimes have that same problem. Again, we’d get into laughing at ourselves.
I often would see or feel the stress that accompanies running a local newspaper especially in the changing environment of encroaching social media and internet publications. The bottom line is invariably in the same equation as journalistic integrity. Somehow, Tom managed to balance that equation.
I was laughing to myself this week because when I started writing the column, it was solely a labor of love. Which means, of course, free. However, each year on my column anniversary he would take me to lunch, and we would have contract negotiations. One year I got a free newspaper delivered to my house. Another negotiation led to me getting a free parking spot in the lot on Thunder.
After a few years he told me that he felt like I should receive a stipend for my worth to the newspaper. Only in a very few and far between moments have I ever felt as validated.
If I were to evaluate my life, I would have to use as a measuring point — before Tom and after Tom. I could name a handful of people who truly and literally changed my life. Tom Lindley profoundly changed my life forever.
The one column I will never forget found us discussing how to publish it on/off for three days. I wanted to write a column about my dislike for the racially charged N-word. He liked the idea, but the sticking point was that I always thought the actual word had a tremendous emotional impact in print. I wanted to use it once for that reason. He didn’t outright say no, but we discussed which way would be the better column.
Of course, what I sensed he wanted turned out to be the right thing to publish. There are reasons we have mentors in our lives.
Tom and I shared the absolute belief that a hometown newspaper is a very important and necessary entity for a healthy community.
I would hope that someday some person will feel about me how I feel about Tom Lindley. The only way to ever repay him for what he did for me would be to do something like that to help change someone else’s life. Even then, we will never be even.