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Pulitzer Prize winner Tom French retiring from the St. Petersburg Times



Tomfrench_2  I first heard about this a while ago, and now that he's announced it publicly, I can put this sad news on the blog: Tom French, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and longtime inspiration back here in the features department, is taking the newspaper's enhanced retirement package.

Tom, who shares Hoosier roots with me, got a call from Indiana University offering a teaching gig -- actually, an endowed chair in their journalism department -- and so, after some soul searching, he's decided to take that position, leaving at the end of August.

He joins a list of about 40 people leaving the Times newsroom since the retirement incentive was announced (some in that tally are leaving for non-retirement reasons); 200 people across the company have taken it, overall.

Hired at the Times in 1981, Tom helped redefine narrative journalism in the '80s and '90s, exemplified in his Pulitzer winning 1998 series Angels & Demons, the shattering tale of the murder of a mother and her two children while on vacation here from Ohio, the toll their death took on the surviving husband and the search for the killer. Tom's always written as if he were composing books for the newspaper, offering intensely readable, fact-filled excursions into sprawling, true-life tales. And the work of many narrative aces here at the St. Petersburg Times -- Lane DeGregory and Ben Montgomery, for example -- seems descended from his pioneering touch.

A sample, from Angels & Demons:Rogers_billboard

"They were on their way to the Magic Kingdom. 

"The highways were filled with them. Couples in subcompacts, debating the wisdom of stopping at Stuckey's for a pecan log. Tour groups in tour buses, fleecing their companions at gin rummy and keeping an eye on their driver in case he nodded off. Myriad configurations of moms and dads and stepmoms and stepdads and napping toddlers and whining third-graders and sprawling teenagers in full sulk and mothers-in-law with pursed lips and embittered outlooks, all struggling for peaceful coexistence inside the air-conditioned confines of their minivans.

"They were pilgrims, embarked on the same passage so many millions had made before. From every corner of the country they came, descending through the lengths of Alabama and Georgia until at last they reached the threshold of their destination."

Tom will be the second Pulitzer winner we lose this year, following editorial board member Jack Reed's decision to take the retirement package as well. There is little doubt the Times will be forever changed.

Good luck, pal.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:50pm]


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