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Hail to the Chief



It was probably just the brevity of it all that got me first. Oh, not the brevity of life itself. That's dunned into our tender ears from the start, and the longer we know, the shorter it seems.

No, the brevity of his obituary itself. The matter-of-fact skimpiness of it all, drained of all color where once there was so much. The realization that if you stick around long enough, the stuff that made your life live just melts away from all memories and heads for the drain. The ice-sculpture nature of me and you.

OK, here it is. From Dec. 5, 2007:

FRICKE. Edwin P. Fricke, Sr. passed away November 14, 2007 at the age of 84. Beloved husband of Janet B. Fricke, loving father of Edwin P. Fricke, Jr., Michele F. Thibodeau, Brian J. Fricke, Sr., James P. Fricke, brother of George H. Fricke, Jr. and Gene Fricke. Son of the late George H. Fricke, Sr. and the late Pauline J. Fricke. Also survived by 5 grandchildren, 1 brother-in-law, 1 sister-in-law and a host of Nephews and Nieces. Mr. Fricke served in the United States Army during World War II and was a disabled veteran. A funeral mass was held at Greenwood Funeral Home Chapel, 5200 Canal Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124.

That's all and nothing. But there's more, at least while there are a few of us still around to remember and speak those memories. It's the least we can do, so here goes. From the fading memories of a half-dozen lives that Ed Fricke touched, maybe changed, certainly tickled.

He was a true son of New Orleans, and he always sounded like it, though the time of his voice was squawky like a parrot's and every one of his pupils could imitate it " or thought they could. He played in a band when he first went to Loyola, but World War II and its draft caught up with him. He brought a rifle to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and had a thumb shot off.

After the war, he came back to Loyola to finish his studies. There was a program in journalism, overseen by a genteel and geriatric Jesuit, but it needed someone to do the heavy lifting. That someone was Ed Fricke.

For the next 20 years or so, he was the only full-time faculty member of the journalism department. But not the least of his talents was his wish to have working pros teach college courses and the skills to make that wish come true. Reporters, columnists, editors, photographers, makeup guys " they came and they taught.

Who learned? There were those of us who had our own reasons for wanting a career in journalism before Bernstein and Woodward became rich heroes, and others who coveted jobs in advertising or public relations. Fricke sometimes scouted us out through his network of high school paper moderators. He knew which of us needed money, too. He helped those get a spot hustling ads for the school yearbook or the school paper named The Maroon. Or covering prep sports or election results for the local dailies. Thus did graduates of Nicholls and McDonogh and West Jeff and St. Aloysius get into Loyola.

Of course, if you really weren't cut out for the newspapering life, Fricke quickly found out. He found out because before your college textbooks lost their new-book smell, you were working on the weekly edition of The Maroon, and you might as well be working on a junior edition of The Front Page. A big, yellow wooden house on Cromwell Street, cooled by choppy ceiling fans and heated by roaring space heaters, is in any weather, crammed with college crap and chatter. Here we put out a newspaper every week, smoking plenty of cigarettes, punching on the keys of Underwoods and Remingtons, bloodying our fingers with carbon paper, dealing with the midnight giggles. Writing last-minute headlines, changing typefaces, trimming a three-column photo to two columns. Heading to the printers on Thursdays. Learning to understand the newspaper business.

And on top of it all, Edwin P. Fricke, the tough managing editor. From the first day, he called you 'Mr." or 'Miss" and you called him 'Chief." From the start, he let you know of his top sins of newspaper writing: use of the noncreative 'the" in the lead, 'wooden" headlines, those with no active verbs. These things were always linked with words like 'bilious" or 'egregious" or 'garbage" in his post-game analysis, all delivered in that distinctive Fricke accent that his students all imitated behind his back.

He could be critical, but he shielded us from the criticism of higher ups. He seldom interfered with what went into the paper, though he would sometimes moan 'You're gonna cost me my next raise" after we'd ruffle some faculty feathers.

Yet, he was not the kind to screen us from the realities of grown-up life, even the seedy ones. 'You're gonna see this on some story that comes across your desk," while chalking BOM on the blackboard. '"Business Office Must' is what it means, and that story gets in whether you like it or not. BOM."

He knew the ways of the word. He wrote a handicapped column called 'Ted Turfman" for the daily and often said 'The best writing in any newspaper is in The Daily Racing Form. "

That was Ed Fricke. He had plenty of opinions, and if they were in his head, they were on his lips. He lived in the moment and invited you to live there, too.

Not everyone wanted to live there. His shabby-newsroom-replica was not for everyone, nor were its pressures. He found those students out, directed them in other directions.

Those who stayed left Loyola with something not all college graduates can boast of. They were ready for a job, ready to face the general pressures of adult living and the special pressures of journalism and do it with the wry recall of a full-blown character who had made all that readiness available to you.

When it was all over and you'd paid your last tuition nickel, Fricke probably wasn't through with you. He had lots of contacts and he hustled jobs for his guys and gals. He never said he was wrong or sorry, but if you needed a favor, he'd find one for you.

This, too. Last week someone said, 'We'd create and we'd clown, but we'd get out a product and a good one. He taught us responsibility." And someone else: 'He didn't teach it; he made you love it." And still someone else: 'I don't know if he was an educator, but he was a teacher."

So there it is. As I suspected, the best parts of a life belong to the storytellers. As I knew, this one was going to be too big for any story. Chief, you deserved better. The unwritten footnote of many an obituary.

But we tried, Chief, and we cared. A real BOM.

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