The Breakfast Club Blog

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bryan Woolley bought me lunch

Bryan Woolley was one of The Dallas Morning News' truly great narrative writers. No one could say more with less than he could. He's a man of few words, but every one counts. Though he contributed each week to the lifestyles sections, and sometimes had more than one piece in a single section, he really revealed his greatness this past summer with "A Writer Begins."

"A Writer Begins" was an eight-part summer serial that appeared on Sundays in July and August. It chronicled the humble West Texas beginnings of his journalism career that went on to last 53 years. Each installment not only showed his love of writing, but also of the newspaper business. It seemed he was born to be a newspaper man.

He later told me he received a sizeable stack of letters from readers and was quite surprised by such a response. I wasn't. The writing had been so strong that it prompted me to finally overcome my nerves and write to him myself.

I first sent him a complimentary e-mail after the series kicked off. With remarkable class and grace, he replied and made kind remarks about a handful of pieces I had written for the paper. To this moment, I remain astonished, and I see it as a major road sign in my life, telling me to stay on course. In fact, he told me the "secret" was to keep going and keep it simple.

I wrote to him again after the fifth part of the series to ask him how he had determined what to include and how to structure it. He shocked me with his response. After explaining that he had simply made a list of memorable people and events and then narrowed it to eight scenes, he commented that he had not had the chance to write about all of it, but would in his next book. The one he would write after he left the paper in September. Bryan had accepted the paper's voluntary buyout that seemed to be directed at the most "experienced" people.

Though I had yet to meet the man in person, tears welled up in my eyes. It's amazing the emotion you can feel for an artist, because an artist has bared his soul so very eloquently to you through his work. You can't replace someone like Bryan, as though you could just hire another excellent, but "less expensive" narrative writer. He was part of the paper's spirit, and he had devoted his life to the newspaper business, which added a tinge of anger and remorse to his loss at the paper and to my sadness.

I felt like I had to meet him while I had the chance, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind going to lunch with a baby writer before he left. He obliged me.

Bryan met me in the lobby of The Dallas Morning News building, decked out in sunglasses and a white panama hat. He's a man of few words in person, also.

We walked to the Founders' Grill near the office, and over lunch, we had a great talk about writing -- he never took a writing or journalism class in his life -- newspapers and the future. He remarked that though he was sad to be leaving, it would have been hard to stay without the colleagues he treasured.

I was curious to know what he would do now. Write novels, of course. But would he take any time off or have a little fun with his severance money?

You bet. He intends to get a Mac lap-top computer with all the trimmings. You know, so he could write anywhere. At the pool in his condo community. In the park, watching the ducks. That kind of thing.

You can take the writer out of the newspaper, but ...

Bryan Woolley. The consummate writer. And apparently gentleman, as well. When lunch concluded, he smoothly reached for the check and picked up the tab with that endearing, old-school gentility.

It was just one more picture he created in my mind that I'll never forget.


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