As I was preparing to write a column for our parish bulletin about the less familiar of our recently canonized saints, I received some sad news. One of the finest of my college journalism professors had died. News reporting and editing was what I studied in college and it was my profession before my life took a slightly different turn.
The news of his death came, not in a radio or TV newscast, the means of communication to which he’d committed almost every waking moment of his professional life — the pursuit of being first and being right —- but rather via social media, where veracity and integrity are seemingly of little or no account. I smiled at the irony.
Henry Lippold was his name. Those who knew him best and loved him most, or even just a little, called him HL. And if you were fortunate enough, he called you TL or JB or KB, or any of the other clever or endearing monikers his mind concocted and never forgot. As a parent names a child, it was as if HL named his students, and in many ways and to varying degrees, Henry’s role was somewhat parental. He instilled values and priorities, discipline and enthusiasm as a parent might, or at least a really good coach.
I don’t know how old Henry was when he died. I don’t know how many years he taught, or how long he was married to Judy, although I’ve known her for almost as long as I’ve known him. I’m not sure how many children they had or whether they had any grandchildren. A good reporter, as HL taught so many of us to be, could easily collect such details, and those details did matter to Henry. And yet statistics can’t convey the appreciation so many of those good reporters – or at least onetime reporters – have for this man.
Returning to the initial subject of this column, Henry was not a saint, at least not in the stereotypical ways of piety and sacrifice. That’s not to say he didn’t convey saintly virtues. He was generous to a fault with his students; the light in his classroom seemed to always be burning – late into the night, early in the morning. He was faithful to the institution where our paths crossed, UW-Eau Claire, but more so to the students who passed through its halls. His success, if professors can measure success, was realized in the careers of his students. When an alum got a job – at a TV station in Phoenix or a small AM radio station in Rhinelander – HL was pleased, and proud. Henry worked his contacts trying to locate jobs and open doors for former students. He called it “Blugolds helping Blugolds,” referencing the mascot of our school.
Henry conveyed to his students virtues of honesty and diligence and accuracy and hard work. He was gregarious and optimistic, demanding and resourceful. His greatest delight was recognizing creativity and mastery in his students. “Tip-top,” he’d say with exuberant fervor. “Tip-top!”
He was a newsman. He reveled in asking questions, snooping around, sitting through a long county board meeting knowing there’d be a morsel of news. The picture accompanying this column is a favorite of mine because it shows me, the guy in the glasses, covering a story with Henry, the guy with the nibbled tie (it was a delightful quirk of his). What we’re covering isn’t important; what makes the photo memorable is that I was covering a story with him. The student on equal footing with the teacher? Hardly. But what a kick to try.
When I’d made the decision to leave my newspaper job and pursue studies for the priesthood, I stopped in Henry’s campus newsroom to tell him. He was startled and probably confused — leave a good newspaper job! As always, he was encouraging. “You’ll still be reporting the news, TL,” he said. His reference to what we call “good news” caught me off-guard. “Tip-top, tip-top!” TL