McClellan: A reporter’s professional courtesy to those who have passed – St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Candle Made Easy

In the early hours of a Saturday morning in late May, Gregg Hall, the 66-year-old chief of the Hazelwood Police Department, was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

Well, not really broken. He was stopped for irregular driving in O’Fallon, Missouri. He tried, with limited success, to recite the alphabet from E to N. With even less success, he attempted to walk the line. An officer said Hall failed a breathalyzer.

O’Fallon officer Nathan Dye, who stopped him, recorded everything on his body cam. Eventually, Dye’s supervisor called O’Fallon boss John Neske. Neske was fully aware that everything was being recorded and said he would drive Hall home.

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The story broke a month and a half later when this newspaper published the video and audio from the bodycam.

That day I had lunch with an old friend who is a retired city cop. We ate at the reopened Beffa’s on Olive Street. The original establishment had a speakeasy atmosphere. No signs. Either you knew about it or you didn’t. It was a buffet with a bar on the side. Prices weren’t listed and you paid what Mike Beffa thought you should.

I sometimes ate with priests or policemen and it annoyed me that I paid more for the same meals. I once complained to Mike Beffa. He shrugged his shoulders. “We respect the badge and the collar,” he said. Not so much the pen, was left unspoken.

The new Beffa’s has set menus and list prices.

I’m trying to get upset that the chief of Hazelwood gets a pass, I said to my friend.

Don’t worry, he said. Hall’s a very good guy, and Neske’s father was a city cop, so he remembers when professional courtesy was a thing, my friend said.

Reminiscing about the old days, my friend said he gave a lot of people a break. He said he would stop a guy, assess him as disabled and then take him to the train station and tell the guy to call his wife to drive her home.

The woman would be angry. The husband started to say something and she said: “I don’t want to hear from you. I don’t even want to look at you.”

My friend laughed as he told the story. I laughed too.

Drunk driving is a very serious matter. I understand that. But I also understand that the courts often don’t treat it that way. John Hoffmann, a former police officer who writes the online newsletter, writes regularly about “justice” in Chesterfield and Town and Country Magistrates’ Courts. Drunk driving defendants who can afford lawyers routinely walk away with no points and no lasting records.

But let me come back to the notion of professional courtesy. As my friend said, it used to be a thing. If it upsets you, I have good news: it is dying out. Body cams are part of it for the police, but attitudes have changed too.

Professions that didn’t offer much money used to offer other things. For a police officer, being pulled over for irregular driving was a ride home. Here at the newspaper, too, we had a professional courtesy thing.

Everyone who worked for the newspaper got an obituary. It wouldn’t necessarily take long, but we would mark the death of our own.

We would certainly have taken note of the death of Suzanne Topham-Tarrant. She was an editor and news editor. She died on June 17th. She was 74 years old and had two adult children and a granddaughter. Suzanne was preoccupied with the world. She was amused or amused – she would have known the right word – at the craziness in the newsroom and in the general world as well. She loved to chat. It also had something to do with the weather. She kept up to date with weather conditions around the world.

Maybe she got that from her late father. He was a navigator on a bomber in the Pacific during World War II and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with an Oak Grape.

A week after Suzanne’s death, Shawn Candela died. He was a site designer. He had worked for several newspapers. He was calm and professional. Also a very good athlete. He was single and had no children. He loved animals. He saved cats. In an online memo, former Post-Dispatch reporter Robert Patrick recalled that Shawn “sat on his porch while cats and the occasional other animal went in and out of his home.” Sean was 60. He is survived by a brother and a sister.

Finally, on June 29th, Sally Bixby Defty died. She was 89 and a legend. She died in Ticonderoga near Bolton Landing, a hamlet on Lake George in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. She loved this place.

One could argue that her roots were in Michigan. Her grandfather, William Keeney Bixby, grew up there. After high school, he moved to Texas and got a job as a baggage handler on a railroad. He was later hired by the Missouri Pacific Railroad and moved to St. Louis where he became President of the American Railcar and Foundry Co.

He was one of the main financiers for Charles Lindbergh’s transcontinental flight.

He also built a home on Millionaires’ Row on the shores of Lake George.

Sally spent her summers there. She graduated from Vassar with a degree in Art History. Her engagement to London-based Eric Defty was publicized by the New York Times.

But the cultivated life somehow didn’t suit Sally. In 1965 she was hired by the Post-Dispatch as a reporter for the women’s department. She was a force of nature. She was soon a city editorial reporter. Until 1976 she was the senior city editor. She gave up the title and returned to reporting. She had a good flair for light things, but she wasn’t up to it. She almost won a Pulitzer Prize for a series about arson.

She was a role model and mentor.

“She led with skill and grace and always seems amazed that others would look to her as a role model,” former Post-Dispatch editor Margaret Freivogel said in an obituary in the Post-Star, a newspaper that reports on Bolton Landing. “In addition to her achievements, I remember her tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. She once said someone told her the key to success is good posture. She practiced it.”

Sally left the newspaper in 1995. She lived in Germany and then built a house in Bolton Landing.

She worked there as a volunteer in a museum. She was, I’m pretty sure, another force of nature. That was her way. And so her death at Bolton Landing was an obituary, but not here.

Life is a bit more rigid these days. In order to evaluate an obituary, a person must have been known. No more professional courtesy. In the same vein, at lunch my friend would not be able to drive a disabled driver to the train station and then phone his wife. And certainly one police chief couldn’t drive another home.

Maybe that makes the world a better place.

At the new Beffa’s, my friend paid the same for his sandwich as I paid for mine. I felt kind of bad about it.

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