Friday, May 4, 2012

Ode to Tommy Tomlinson: Hair today, gone tomorrow

You may have heard by now that one of the Observer's most talented and beloved columnists, Tommy Tomlinson, is leaving to write for a national online sports startup. Today is his last day in the newsroom, so if you hear a collective sob coming out of the Observer's corner of uptown around 5 p.m., that's why.

We've all met people in our lives who were really nice, authentic and fun to be around - but not that talented. And we've all met people who were really talented - but were toxic to be around.

What makes Tommy so special as a person and a professional is that he is both interesting and enjoyable to be around AND he's talented - his writing skills and the connection he has to his readers are off the charts. People like that can rule the world, or make you wish they did.

What you may not know about Tommy is that he also has a great head of hair.  From my desk, I have a direct view of his cubicle and whenever I get overwhelmed I always seek out his fabulous follicles peeking out from the top. It always instantly soothed me. Tommy's here, everything is going to be OK.

But after today, he won't be at the Observer anymore.

Gratitude means nothing if you don't share it, and I never told Tommy the things I just wrote until I found out he was leaving. That was my mistake.

Every day while I had the chance, I should have told him how much his joyful presence meant to me and what an inspiration he is as a writer. Well, maybe not every day. That would have creeped him out. But I certainly shouldn't have waited until the end of the 20 years we've worked together.

If you have a Tommy in your life - someone you admire and who has made you a better person just by being around them - thank them now because you never know what tomorrow brings.

Earlier this week, Tommy gave a special talk at work where he told us the Top 10 mistakes he made in his journalism career so we could learn from them. He also shared some of this information when he was on WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins radio show the next day.

Here's his list. Tommy will be based out of Charlotte with his new job, so if you see him out and about you can thank him for his words of wisdom. And don't forget to compliment him on his hair.

1. Don't be late. Show up early and stay late for events because that's when the good stuff happens. Interesting things rarely happen in the middle. It's early when people are anticipating an event, or late when they're analyzing what happened, that you find out the best information.

2. Don't stay at your desk all the time. One of the favorite quotes he's read is "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world."

3. Don't leave the good stuff out. When writing about an event you've covered, think about what you would have told your best friend about it and make sure that gets in the story.

4. Don't fight over every edit. There's a perfectionist streak in all of us, but you have to know when to let small things go.

5. Don't forget that you're the professional. If a few people don't like what you're doing, don't change for them.

6. Don't stay in the box. Every upward move he's had in his career is because he figured out what wasn't being done well and then figured out how to do it well.

7. Don't worry about awards. We all laughed at that one because Tommy has won multiple prestigious awards. But his point is that winning awards shouldn't be your goal. If you do good work, people will recognize your efforts.

8. Don't forget to have fun.

9. Don't lose yourself in your job. Don't be that person who doesn't do anything other than work. That makes you boring. Experiencing life is what makes people interesting.

10. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

11. Always give people a bonus. And in this case, his bonus was an extra tip: Don't quit. If you're in a field that you love, don't give up. For Tommy that field is journalism and he knows he wouldn't be happy doing any other kind of job.


DocB said...

Great tribute ... great read ... thanks for posting this one! DOC B