A View from the Hill: A tribute to a newspaper man

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I began my newspaper career right out of college in 1975 as a reporter at a muckraking weekly newspaper in Kennebunk.

From the first day, it was a blast. On the second day, when I saw what editors did, I knew that was what I wanted to do. So I did.

It was as City Editor at the daily Journal Tribune in Biddeford that I ran into Mo Mehlsak, who came on as a business writer. Yeah, that guy, the one who announced his retirement as Managing Editor of the Phoenix last week, previously editor of the Forecaster.

Andrew MarstersThe one who has been my dear friend and colleague for so many years. Mo let me write this column from the day this Phoenix rose. I thank him for that wonderful opportunity and for the long leash he gave me.

But this isn’t about me. This one is for Mo, from a few of the many journalists who felt his warm, magic touch over the years.

Profane perfectionist

People like his colleagues at the now defunct Journal Tribune, where, as Gail Burnett recalled, Mo “always had very definite and unwavering ideas about most things to do with language.

“There was one day when I swore he and another editor (maybe Dick Buhr?) nearly came to blows over a question of punctuation. I think it was probably the Oxford comma.”

I’m pretty sure the only punch ever thrown in that newsroom was through a wall by a different editor. Not Mo’s style.

“Arguments aside,” Gail recalls, “he always made working in the newsroom so much fun. I can imagine his current staff will miss him as much as I miss working with men who hold such passionate views about punctuation.”

And spelling.

Dick Buhr: “Mo taught me how to spell espresso, unfortunately after the first edition headline had already run.”

Alex Acquisto, Forecaster: “It wasn’t uncommon for me to barge into his office to shout about something and for him to shout back. Once he asked me a question about a source in a story, and my response was something to the effect of, “the councilor doesn’t know.” And Mo’s response, in not a quiet voice, was, “it’s his fucking job to know!”

John Gold, Journal Tribune: “I’ll always remember Mo as an extremely calm, level-headed and slightly profane editor.

Humanity and kindness

Callie Ferguson, Forecaster: “He’s an even greater guy than he is a great editor.”

Mo gave Journal Tribune veteran Cathy Sengel and her son tickets to a private showing of “Schindler’s List” at Mo’s synagogue.

Cathy: “It is an excruciatingly painful film to watch, all the more so as we realized there were Holocaust survivors in the audience. Though in part we felt like voyeurs watching something too sacred to witness, we were honored and humbled by the strength they drew from their religion.

“Seth and I … thank Mo for extending that invitation to the heritage that shaped his integrity as an individual and editor.”

Integrity, certainly.

Me: When my wife died three years ago, Mo connected me with Rabbi Alice Goldfinger. It was an act of grace that helped me through my darkest hours.

Sarah Szanton, Journal Tribune: “You were one of the first people to reach out to me as a friend in the summer of 1987. My then-boyfriend and I were young and naive, and weren’t quite sure what we were doing in Maine. You and your family have been a warm presence in our lives ever since.”

The teacher

Callie Ferguson, Forecaster: “…His editing style taught me how to approach the work with a sense of joy as well as civic mindedness…”

Karen Wood, Forecaster and Phoenix publisher: “For many years Mo was my work husband and we referred to the reporters, young or old, as our kids. We shared the best of times and the worst of times and got each other through both. He was my rock. I will miss making fun of him to make ‘the kids’ laugh.”

Natalie Ladd, Phoenix: “Eleven years ago, I reached out to Mo (aka Zorro, known for slashing copy left and right) to bring my column … to the Forecaster. To my surprise, Mo was a reader who went to bat for me. Because of his guidance and endless supply of jelly beans, I grew into a careful, purposeful, better writer. However, Mo is one-third curmudgeon, two-thirds mensch, often taking picky editorial liberties that pissed me off. I miss him already.”

Me: He taught me how to eat steak and cheese bombs from D’Angelo’s in Biddeford. A true friend.

Last word goes to Phoenix Editor Marian McCue.

“Mo has played a crucial role in the creation of the new Portland Phoenix since its founding in 2019.  His keen news judgment, built from decades of  journalism experience, was key to building this news organization and helping us be successful. And, to me, he was always a reliable and wise colleague, and he will always be a treasured friend to all of us at the Phoenix.”

And elsewhere.

Onward.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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