A Great Editor Remembered
By Emil Franzi
HE WAS ONE of us. By us, I mean anybody who ever had a byline, sweated a story under time and space constraints, cropped a photo for publication, proofed copy, made up a page or chased a late story, either freelance or staff.
Dick Vonier, who died recently at age 59, was the bridge between the grunts and the suits in charge. You could tell by who was at his memorial service, from the publishing executive to the receptionist from 10 years ago.
Dick had the respect of those who worked for him and those he worked for because he could do it all. He was a great writer, a superb editor, a magnificent motivator, a supreme negotiator, and a helluva fine manager in the pre-Dilbert, classic context of the word.
He came to Tucson in 1972 from the Milwaukee Journal to work for the Tucson Citizen. Before that he was with Life magazine. He rose to city editor, and survived the Gannett takeover, remaining until 1985. In 1986 he and Chuck Bowden put together the legendary City Magazine and accumulated some of the finest talent in this valley for a class publication with a great attitude.
Many folks in this town got their first byline from Dick Vonier, and I'm very proud to be one of them. CityMag was probably the job Dick had the most fun with, because for a time he and Chuck had the most control. Many people abuse control; Dick used it to keep a diverse staff of writers, photographers, sales people and artists motivated and moving. Dick Vonier could get you to hang around until midnight polishing a story because you really wanted him to like it.
After CityMag, Dick went to Phoenix Magazine and made that slick rag into something meaningful. He also increased the circulation by about eightfold, not only through better marketing, but by improving the product--an archaic concept that eludes too many publishing minds today, but one Dick fully understood.
Dick Vonier wasn't big on shallow journalism and pretty puff pieces; he spent considerable portions of his life fighting for real stories with the suits and bean counters at every place he ever worked. For that, he earned the loyalty and dedication of those who wrote and sweated for him. He paid freelancers and staff as much as he could and constantly apologized for it not being enough, which only helped endear him to his troops. Dick wouldn't mind being remembered as a guy who made a lot of people's car and mortgage payments. If your outfit was going into combat, Dick Vonier was who you'd want for a CO.
He was back in Tucson after eight years in Phoenix and had taken over the new Tucson Monthly. All of us, including those who publish it, know it will suffer from his absence.
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