Donn Esmonde’s first assignment for The Buffalo Evening News was covering a tennis match.
It wasn’t exactly a hazing. It’s the sort of story given to new reporters.
That was Jan. 6, 1982. Donn was a kid from Long Island, an English major from SUNY Stony Brook, coming to The News after a couple years writing sports at the Poughkeepsie Journal. Last Sunday – 34 years and 217 days later – Donn’s farewell column ran in The News.
Aside from the occasional vacation, this is the first Sunday in a long, long time without Donn Esmonde sounding off in The News.
Donn spent most of the 1980s covering sports. He wrote a column and feature stories. He covered college basketball. He went to three Olympics, every men’s basketball Final Four and all but one World Series. I’m a fan of writers who start in sports. They all learn how to write fast.
For the next five years, Donn wrote a lifestyles column. He marked the arrival of kids and the start of his 40s. Donn’s take: “The way I look at it, 40 is easy. For a guy, 30 is the tough one. Until the instant before the clock strikes 30, a man can lead a wasteful, self-indulgent, IRA-free life without fear of any flak.”
Twenty-two years ago, Donn moved to the metro staff, where he wrote about the important local issues of the day. He campaigned for the Commercial Slip, took on mayors and walked the East Side after shootings.
Along the way, Donn fell for Buffalo. He met his wife here. (When Donn moved into a new apartment in 1983, she was literally the girl next door.) He raised his daughters here. Reporting took him to every corner of the region. He came to see, as he wrote last weekend, that Buffalo was “one of the coolest places on the planet.”
It isn’t quite right to call this Donn’s retirement. In a 2011 News buyout, Donn officially retired, then came back part time to write two columns a week. And he won’t be sitting at home with his feet up. In his life after The News, Donn is rehabbing houses on the West Side.
Just before he walked out of the newsroom a week ago, Donn spoke to the staff. “One of the greatest blessings anyone can have is doing exactly what they want to do for a living,” he said. “I just loved doing what I’ve done. It was nice that editors thought it was good enough and enough people read it to let me keep doing it.
“But honestly it didn’t matter that much to me if 400 people read it or 400,000 … I just loved the work.”
We loved it, too.
On-the-scene coverage from Rio, Cleveland, Philadelphia
You read a lot these days about news organizations cutting back. The News is evolving with the times – adding new features and trimming others, as we always have. (We once published ship arrivals and lists of hotel guests.) But what never changes is our commitment to give you news coverage you can’t get anywhere else.
In July we sent four journalists to the Republican and Democratic national conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia – political reporter Bob McCarthy, Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski, features reporter Tim O’Shei and chief photographer Derek Gee.
This month, columnist Jerry Sullivan is in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics. This is Jerry’s ninth Olympics and his sixth Summer Games.
Don’t worry. Jerry will be back in the United States in time for the first Bills game.
Story topics: Mike Connelly