Here’s to John

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Say it ain’t so; John Pierce is retiring.

The first interaction I can reliably remember with John came as I tried to sort out a thank you ad following the death of my grandpa.

It was about a month following his death, once we were finally able to place him in the columbaria next to my grandmother. We, as a family, wanted to thank everyone for their well-wishes and kindness shown in the wake of his passing, and it was left to me to contact the Fort Frances Times to arrange the ad. Mind that this was years before I officially joined the team as a reporter.

I remember this interaction because John is the kind of person who makes every interaction feel meaningful. I don’t want to say he goes out of his way to do it; that implies that it’s something he needs to make an effort to do. Instead, when interacting with John, it feels like it comes naturally, that he wouldn’t think to do anything else.

“I walked our dog past your grandpa’s house last night, as I have done hundreds of times, and thought of both of your grandparents,” John wrote to me as he provided a proof of the ad to look over.

“Though I did not know them, I recall your grandpa sitting in his easy chair by the east window reading or probably watching TV. It seems in the evening when we walked by he was always in that spot. I know he will be missed.”

John Pierce has been a steady hand, a cheerleader, a comforting voice, a sympathetic ear, a fountain of wisdom and a father figure to the staff at the Times for nearly 27 years. We’re not sure how we’re going to get by without him, as he begins his well-deserved retirement. Our loss is his family’s gain – his wife Penny and his many grandkids, including little Johnny here, have been patiently waiting for us to come to terms with saying goodbye. You’re a real humdinger, John. To say you’ll be missed is a gross understatement.

I was touched by this kindness. Here was a man who did not know my grandparents, whom I had met maybe a couple of times, sharing this brief and meaningful memory with me. It helped ease some of the pain of passing I had been feeling, and it meant the world to me, then and now.

Once I joined the team and got to know John better than just via email, I fully appreciated the kindness and vast wealth of knowledge he had and freely shared with all of us in the office, past and present. It’s journalistic standard to try and get as much information as possible for a photo cutline, the brief text that will accompany any picture we publish. Try as we might, every so often a name gets missed, or a finger smudges ink (darn the absence of left-handed pens) and becomes illegible. Well, in those cases, who better to run a photo by than John? He is the kind of person who just seems to know everyone, a likely by-product of his many years in many different areas from coaching to advertising, and more than once he has come through for me with the correct spelling and name of a person buried in the background of a blurry photo.

John has been the biggest proponent and champion of the paper of anyone I’ve ever met. In a field that is slowly losing its physical presence to fast, free online news bits, John, through his years of work as an advertiser here at the Times, has been on the frontline of proving that the physical community newspaper still matters, is still important in our almost-all-digital age. I can’t count the people who come in each week to see him for an ad, an idea, or just to chat. His phone rings almost constantly, and I am always a bit in awe of how much he can get done when it seems he also has to spend all of his time speaking with customers and clients. His professionalism and demeanour have earned him the trust of businesses and individuals across the district, many of whom seem to know that they are in the best of hands with John, that an ad will turn out just the way they need it to, even if they don’t entirely know what it is they need.

It’s understated to try and write down just how important John has been to the paper, and to each of us who work here. From champion to collaborator to lead generator and beyond, John has been instrumental in the daily workings of the Fort Frances Times. I can’t count the number of chats we’ve had about stories that have been written, insightful dialogues as he’s told me what he enjoyed or thought about when reading the previous night’s paper.

John will close out September by retiring, a well-earned and deserved end to a storied career. We’ve had some time to come to grips with what this will mean for us at the paper, and I don’t know that anyone has yet to figure it out. It’s obvious he will be missed, not just on a professional level, but personally. He is part of our Fort Frances Times family, and the office will be lesser for not having him in it.

Still, I know I and many others will wish John the happiest of retirements when he walks out the door on Thursday, September 29. We hope he enjoys his newfound time at home and on the road as he and his wife get the opportunity to spend more precious time with his children and grandchildren.