Both the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times have tributes today to former Tribune security guard Wendell Smothers, who worked at the newspaper “for more years than most of us can remember.” The 52-year-old man was found dead in his home, a North Side Chicago hotel room, earlier this week. The coroner blames heart disease.
“In March, in a round of layoffs, Wendell left the Tribune. The distress in the newsroom was as palpable as a pinched nerve,” writes Mary Schmich.
She tells of how Smothers kept a communal candy dish at his security post. One day the sweets were no longer there and a reporter asked why.
“It cost too much,” explained the guard, who worked at the Gap when he wasn’t at his newspaper job. Staffers didn’t know that Smothers — rather than bankrupt Tribune — was paying for their candy.
Every office has its fixtures, the people who seem like they’ve always been there and always will be, whose value, as a result, is fully appreciated only when they’re gone. That was Wendell Smothers.
I hope he knew that for a long time after he left, his blue cardigan hung on his abandoned chair, and that his desk was still called Wendell’s desk.
On Thursday, some of his old colleagues put fresh flowers on the desk, and the candy dish, once again, was full
I received two emails about the Smothers stories this morning. One pointed out the difference in the two papers’ references to Smothers’ Tribune exit; the second emailer wrote: “When Wendell was laid off after 21 years (I think I read that he’d started in 1991), did he lose his health coverage? To put it more bluntly, did the layoff basically rip away his safety net (and kill him)?”
I asked that question of the Tribune and was told I couldn’t get an answer because of privacy issues.
(Note: I hit a paywall with the chicagotribune.com link below, but was able to read the column by Googling the headline.)