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George Hohmann is one of a kind

IT has never been hard to keep track of Daily Mail Business Editor George Hohmann.

His tiny office in a far corner of the newsroom is about as far from me and other editors as a writer can get.

Only three staff members - Managing Editor Brad McElhinny, George and I - have offices. The rest of the staff inhabits a classic cubicle farm.

George also used to work from a cubicle. Actually, he occupied two. He needed the adjacent one for his business beat clutter - neat stacks of glossy corporate folders and other materials he couldn't part with.

So when the little office opened up after someone's departure, he was invited to move in.

With his title and defining presence in our newspaper, he deserved his own office. And maybe the rest of us wouldn't hear every word of every interview he conducted in his booming voice.

George is aware of that voice, and he's quick to apologize if he senses he has bothered someone.

If I could choose, I would hear that voice for many years to come. But I cannot.

George has made his own choice, and that is to retire.

He told me months ago, and I entered a period of denial. He had reached the age where this was possible, but I thought surely he would change his mind. I just couldn't imagine him not working, and I didn't want to contemplate the loss of his excellent coverage.

Of the many great characters I have known in the news business, George stands out.

To some extent, he cultivated a persona that would cause people to remember him - and return his calls. His flattop haircut,  for example, set him apart.

Other traits did, too.

After we recruited him from the Fairmont Times West Virginian in 1998, I was amazed by the endless string of compliments I received from the business community simply for hiring him.  

Was he asking people to call me so I wouldn't regret my decision? No, he was just methodically and thoroughly developing his sources with an old-fashioned formality that left deep impressions.

His other strategies, developed between his graduation from the West Virginia University School of Journalism in 1970 and the time he joined us, slowly revealed themselves. His work in Fairmont had been preceded by stints with several other news organizations.

Unfailingly, he would return phone calls and emails, responding to story suggestions and comments even if just to say thanks. He collected phone numbers for a vast array of sources as if they were the coins he stocked in the little shop he used to run as a side business in Fairmont.

On the scent of a story, he was not just tenacious, but relentless. His regular sources came to realize that when George Hohmann called, they might as well give up the goods. He wasn't going to stop calling. Ever.

If I could extract that one trait from his DNA, I would concoct a serum and inject every young reporter who entered the newsroom. Actually, I would go for more - his deep knowledge of his subject matter, his finely honed organizational skills and his flawless copy.

He's an old-style newspaper guy of the best kind, yet he kept up with the tumultuous change that never slowed during a four-decade career.

He was tweeting from events as his final day approached this week. I attended one of those, a luncheon meeting where he was honored. He ate quickly and proceeded to peck away on his laptop, taking notes as others chatted and enjoyed the meal.

George didn't change his mind about retirement, and his last day was Friday.

I take some solace in the fact that he has agreed to continue writing for us occasionally. He plans to freelance for other entities as well.

In true George manner, he is approaching this methodically. He will establish his own website. He is consulting a business coach.

He also dreams of balmy hours watching baseball in Appalachian Power Park. Ever frugal, he hopes to get a job with a vendor. He asked if I would give him a reference.

What shall I say when they call?

Well, sure, he can sell peanuts and make change accurately. With that voice, marketing his wares should be a cinch.

But perhaps they could tap his higher-order skills, maybe have him write game summaries to post online. I guarantee he would spell the difficult Hispanic names right. He would nail the stats.

Meanwhile at the Daily Mail, his successor, Jared Hunt, will move into the little office. He can't match the voice, but we won't have trouble keeping track of him either. A bundle of restless energy, he regularly pops out of his chair to make fast-paced circuits around the newsroom.

He wears his thick, wavy hair in a style appropriately conservative for a business editor but not as short as George's.

After my own long years in this business, I realize that the cast of newsroom characters must evolve. That doesn't make it easy. I'm going to miss that flattop.

Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or nanyaf@dailymail.com.

 


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