Keeping Pace: Five great years at the Optic

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By Don Pace

Five years ago I walked into the Optic with my resume in hand, knowing that the last time I wrote for a newspaper was way back in 1973. I worked as a reporter for the Torii Teller, a slick little weekly news magazine covering the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan.

I had also written a few articles for the Navy Times, and the Stars and Stripes, but most of my career was spent in radio and television. So, as I walked into Tom McDonald’s office all those years ago, my stomach was full of butterflies thinking that the Optic’s editor and publisher wouldn’t think my 30-plus years in broadcasting qualified me to become a newspaper reporter.

Even though I had spent my life trying to beat daily deadlines, writing for radio and television is a different beast than writing for a newspaper. I was secretly praying that Mr. McDonald would show me the door without laughing out loud at the idea of hiring a talking head — a broadcaster of all things.

But life is always full of surprises. At the time I was looking for a job, Mercy López was leaving her post at the Optic, which left a newsroom opening for me. Now, we come full circle as my friend Mercy reclaims her old desk, and I begin the next chapter in my life.

Before I go, I must thank my friends and mentors Tom McDonald, Art Trujillo, David Giuliani and Dave Kavanaugh for their guidance. These dedicated Fourth Estaters are the real deal, and I owe much of my success at the Optic to these professional journalists.

I have truly been a lucky one. After returning home from Vietnam in 1969 without a scratch, and a chest full of ribbons and medals, I was able to talk my way into the American Forces Radio and Television Service, where I worked at the Far East Network, Alaskan Forces Network and Southern Command Network in Panama and Navy News This Week, based in Washington D.C.  

In 1975 I moved to Hollywood and worked with movie stars that my generation grew up watching on the silver screen. Superstars like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Charleton Heston, Sammy Davis Jr., Raquel Welch, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

Along the way there were hundreds of interviews with presidents, senators, governors rock stars and sitcom actors of the day. One of my most memorable days included a private audience with Pope John Paul II during his visit to Hiroshima, Japan, in February 1981.  

While those were exciting times, my years at the Optic will stand out as one of the real highlights of my life. What a ride this has been — meeting the many “Hometown Heroes,” “Mentors of the Month,” and those who went “Above & Beyond.” It’s been both fun and inspiring.

Of course, there were the horrific tragedies that we all experienced together as a community, as well as the sometimes unseemly underbelly of politics and power. It would have been easy to only report happy news, but along with the unpleasant hard-news stories came reform that could only come about as a result of factual and uncompromising reporting.        

I don’t often talk about myself, and as a reporter I have always focused on what you guys are doing out there. Plus, it sounds too much like a eulogy, but I am proud of the work we have done at the Optic — a newspaper steeped in history, grounded in the present, and with an eye on the future.  

Speaking of the present and future, Martín Salazar was recently hired as managing editor. A former Optic reporter, and a rising star at the state’s largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, Martín, will continue the job that was began by the founders of the Optic 132 years ago.  

I don’t know if it was a lucky star, or just a little old-fashioned cajoling by Tom McDonald, that guided Martín back home, but you can bet he will continue the award-winning reporting Las Vegans expect from their hometown newspaper since 1879.  

As Memorial Middle School eighth-grader Brandy Lucero, who shadowed Optic employees for a number of months, pointed out in a recent Optic article, it takes far more people than just reporters to produce a newspaper.

I would like to thank all those who are like links in a chain, they may not get a byline, but they are the ones who made my job possible — and immensely enjoyable.

I will very much miss composition manager Maria Sanchez, bookkeeper Armida Estrada, circulation manager Crissy Johnson, sales manager Vince Chavez, legals and classifieds representative Ray Baca, and production manager David Romero and his wonderful staff of Michael Pacheco, Anna Aragon, Steve Baca, Susan Lovato, Valentina Luna, Veronica Martinez, Andrea Sandlin and Theresa Tapia. And I’ll miss getting to know the new intern, Oshá Bailey, better.

In northern New Mexico we know family is everything, and sometimes it seems everyone we meet is a primo or prima.

That may not always translate into a blood relation, but are we not blessed to have citizens from every corner of the planet right here in Las Vegas working for a common good?

However, without a watchdog looking out for common good, society as we know it will perish. I will personally continue to get my news from the Las Vegas Optic, and other reporters who tell us the truth.

To the citizens of Las Vegas: Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.

Don Pace, an award-winning Optic reporter for the last five years, is retiring. He may be reached at dpace49@yahoo.com.