There are good bosses and bad bosses, with most somewhere in-between. Art Mayhew was a good one, probably the best.
He was publisher of Bucks County Courier Times for most of my years here. He died at 84 on Jan. 20, after a year-long bout with cancer.
Art retired long ago, but kept in touch. Usually powerful men who retire head off to the golf course or a life of travel, never to talk to you again. But Art sent notes, always encouraging and complimentary.
Most remarkable, especially these days, is that while he didn’t agree with a lot of what I wrote, he let it run, even though I knew it might send him reaching for the Pepto. He’d take incoming calls from complainers, whiners and subscription cancellers. He told me how he evaluated such people.
“Can they do what you do better than you do it? If they can, I might hire them. If not, then ...”
He finished the sentence with a few choice words delivered in his native Texas drawl, words I can’t write here. But it was funny, and I adopted his view as my own. And that’s another thing about Art, all the laughter.
I recall his longtime administrative assistant, Ginny Huffnagle, telling me how Art would meet regularly with Grover Friend, our CEO when the Calkins family owned the paper. She said how when those two got together she’d hear so much laughter from Art’s office, like two old friends getting together to tell funny stories, and Grover saying, “Arthur, are we having fun yet?”
That vibe went from the corporate office at the north end of the old Courier building, down Executive Row, into advertising and news and composing and the men who ran the presses. It was a happy shop. It’s why so many of us stayed for so long.
Art, who started his career as a reporter and editor, told me, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing the job right.” No other advice affected me as a young reporter than that, and it came from the guy who signed my paycheck every two weeks.
He was the only boss who sent me a birthday card every year with a personal note. On my 30th, I remember he wrote, “They all go fast after this one, JD.” Thirty-one years later, it seems like yesterday.
He went to funerals of employees who had a death in the family. He’d eat lunch with us worker bees in the cafeteria. His door was always open for a chat, and if you brought your kids into the building, don’t dare leave without stopping by to see him. My son was a tot when I introduced him to Art, and Art let him sit in his chair and play with one toy newspaper delivery trucks he had on display.
He always had my back, which means he always had your back, as a Courier reader.
When I was assigned to cover Bristol Township, a corrupt mayor and his brother were shaking down vendors. One of the vendors secretly presented the mayor with an unfiled lawsuit, laying out the details of the corruption with names and dates and places. He threatened to file it. I wanted to see it. The township wouldn’t give it up.
Art didn’t hesitate to spend the money to file a suit against the township under the state’s sunshine law. Judge Isaac Garb agreed with us. I got the lawsuit and the details hit 1A the next morning, and then-DA Alan M. Rubenstein moved the case to a grand jury. Eventually the mayor and his brother went to jail.
It was justice, of course, but also keeping powerful people accountable. It would have been a story that withered without a publisher willing to fight. The ripple effect of that kind of journalism can never be underestimated.
A few years after that episode, a source of mine played a secretly recorded conversation between two Bristol Township officials discussing no-bid contracts, with one backing out, saying, “What if the paper finds out?”
Art’s work ethic and his attitude toward his job allowed me to do mine, which even after all these years, is a dream job. You can’t ask much more from a boss than that.
The last time I saw him was just before the pandemic lockdowns. We got together for lunch in Levittown. We talked about the future of news, how the new generation of journalists are data-driven, compared to we ink-stained old timers who are story driven.
We agreed that as long as it keeps powerful people on their toes, it’s all good.
“But a good read is a good read,” Art said.
We talked about the characters we dealt with, and there was lots of laughter. Just like old times.
Eternal rest, Art.
Columnist JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Remembering former Bucks County Courier Times publisher Art Mayhew