Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don’t know what to say other than ‘Goodbye, Jeff’


From page B1 | July 04, 2014 |

Two days ago I sat at this computer and began to work on a beautifully worded goodbye column to a longtime friend.

Halfway through, I realized the prose was getting in the way of the message. I was writing for myself, not getting to the point.

Yesterday I tried again. The effort was, once more, poor. Too many adjectives. Too polished. And it wasn’t direct enough.

Another false start came this morning. The words — something I’m supposed to have in embarrassing volume — were absent.

Then, dancing on the edge of deadline (like my friend did so many times himself), my mind filled with that very first encounter I had with Jeff Aberbach …

(Aberbach, who for 20 years was a reporter and editor for The Enterprise, died last week. He was only 60.

(Jeff left The Enterprise in 1999, but continued in print media, most recently serving as lead publications editor at CalRecycle in the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.)

But back to that initial meeting with Jeffrey …

Almost 40 years ago. I was the city editor of the now-defunct Oxnard Press-Courier. Aberbach was 20 minutes into his inaugural shift as a general-assignment reporter at a daily newspaper when I gave him his first story.

“Jeff, there’s a family that converted a DC3 fuselage into a motor home. They’re parked at Ormond Beach. Apparently the rig is a riot to look at. Grab a photographer and do a feature,” I told him.

First day. First assignment. Start with something simple, I figured.

Without missing a beat, Aberbach sat back in his chair, put his hands on his knees and matter-of-factly said:

“I don’t do features.”


“First day, Jeff,” is all I replied.

I gave him the address and some direction in what to ask, then assigned a photographer to drive him (don’t get me started about Jeff’s driving “prowess”).

Ninety minutes later, Aberbach returned.

As his typewriter keys began to clatter, Aberbach broke out in a sweat. Page after page of false starts were ripped from their moorings.

With other things to do, I turned my attention elsewhere.

Eventually, the only people remaining in the newsroom were Jeff and me.

“I’m done,” Jeff said, just a couple ticks short of 9 p.m.

Hmmmm. Six hours on a 400-worder.

“OK. Let me see it.”

Two sharpened pencils at my side, I began marking it up. Halfway through, I quit.

“You’re right, Jeff. You don’t do features.”

We had a terrific photo of the converted DC3 the next day.

But Jeff, it turns out, did everything else. He went on to be one of the best no-nonsense reporters with whom I have ever worked (when I was hired as editor of this fine daily in 1979, Aberbach was the first new reporter I brought in).

But most importantly, he was one of the best friends I ever had.

Jeff loved the Dodgers, enjoyed an occasional poker game (and little-known fact in these parts, he was an accomplished third baseman). He doted on his nieces and nephew. Holidays together with Jeff and his mom Anita were special treats for the Gallaudets.

He held my son just hours after he was born. He got along with everyone. He was hilarious, a Hall of Fame punster. Someone on whom you could always count. He never stopped giving to The Enterprise, and to the many staffers over the years who have memory banks full of Jeffisms. It seems like Jeff never lost touch with anybody.

Sixty is too young to die. Why most things happen, I don’t know. What I do understand is they happen for a reason; reasons that we’ll someday find out.

Until then, at whatever heavenly newspaper Jeff is editing, I hope he’ll see it in his heart to find a spot for me.

I’d love to work with him again — and I do do features.

While I Have You Here: We’ve been swapping Jeff stories for several days and the condolences continue to pour in.

Those of you in the region who knew and loved Jeff — and my colleagues here at The Enterprise — wouldn’t it be fun to share your memories with everyone? Go to the online version of this column at www.davisenterprise.com/sports/dont-know-what-to-say-other-than-goodbye-jeff. Use the comment section to tell Jeff goodbye.

— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at bgallaudet@davisenterprise.net or 530-320-4456.

Bruce Gallaudet


Discussion | 12 comments

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  • Kim OrendorJuly 03, 2014 - 7:46 pm

    being a person of diminutive stature, i was a bit intimidated the first time I met Jeff; but once i got to know him, he was a kind-hearted guy who never missed a chance for a pun - especially in a headline; from now i will dedicate all pun headlines in Jeff's honor; the newspaper business will not be the same

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  • thomasoideJuly 03, 2014 - 11:06 pm

    I didn't know Jeff Aberbach. I was three years old when he left The Enterprise. But Bruce made me feel as if I truly did know Jeff in this short column. Well done, Bruce. And I to will dedicate all of my pun headlines to Jeff as well.

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  • Mary OwenJuly 04, 2014 - 1:51 am

    Jeff used to tell everyone to leave me notes before noon, knowing well that I was such a night person. But if something had to be covered late in the evening, I was the one he'd call. The last time I saw Jeff, he came to see me in the hospital on his way through Salem where I'm now living. We had arranged to meet for dinner, but I had just had emergency surgery for cancer, and he didn't blink an eye. He just showed up and we jawed about life like we always did. Jeff was like that. He was always there for you when you needed a friend. I have much more to share about Jeff, but then we all do. Rest in peace, my dear friend. Someday we'll share that dinner, someday.

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  • Crystal Ross O'HaraJuly 04, 2014 - 9:24 am

    Thank you, Bruce for a wonderful piece! Jeff was one of the first people I met when I came to The Enterprise as a young intern. I laugh at how I was terrified of him! I thought he was like one of those gruff copy editors from an old movie. Jeff was actually one of the kindest, sweetest guys I ever knew. He was a dedicated newspaper man, mentor and friend. He taught all of us so much. I will always and forever miss his puns. Abermania forever!

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  • Bill BuchananJuly 04, 2014 - 4:29 pm

    Jeff was a great guy. Whenever our paths crossed, I was always glad to see him. He was a solid journalist, too, and significantly contributed to Davis by helping to inform people about what was going on in our town. Thanks for this fine memorial, Bruce.

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  • Tom MurphyJuly 04, 2014 - 5:54 pm

    I started calling Jeff "Boffo" about three decades ago because he was. It was my review of his personality, like a movie critic saying a star was boffo in the role. Jeff was boffo in his role as a funny, kind and generous soul -- the sort of person from whom you're always happy to get a call or a lunch invitation. He laughed at everyone's jokes, he listened to everyone's opinion and he deferred to everyone else's choice of a restaurant. But he wasn't just a nice guy, he was very talented as a journalist as the good citizens of Davis saw first-hand for 20 years. He went on to the Marin IJ, the Contra Costa Times and, as Bruce noted, the state of California. All through those moves, he showed his talents quietly, modestly, whether it was coining an eye-catching headline or injecting a touch of color into an otherwise dry manual on the state's efforts to recycle tires. I saw his talents first hand when we were both young reporters working with Bruce and the just-out-of-USC Debbie at the Oxnard Press-Courier -- a rotten little rag with a great cast of writers and editors (I was only there a year, but vividly recall all characters and would gladly spend an evening with any one of them). Boffo sat 3 feet from me, so we talked incessantly as we banged out 200-400 word stories on IBM Selectric typewriters, hoping the tyrannical publisher (aka, Tiny Rat) wouldn't come out of his hole to spoil our fun. I despised TR, and was stunned to hear years later that Boffo -- being a friend to all -- actually returned to Oxnard to visit him several times, long after we'd flown the coop. "Why," I asked incredulously. And Boffo replied, "Oh, he wasn't that bad." Actually, TR was that bad, and Jeff was just that good. For years, Jeff didn't know what to make out of me calling him Boffo, but it finally grew on him and, to my delight, he would sometimes call and say "It's Boffo." Yes, my friend, it truly was.

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  • Alan C. MillerJuly 04, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    Jeff was a great guy. He seemed really happy with his "new" job with the state and his daily commute on the train to Sacramento. I believe I saw him on the train just a few weeks ago (I'm not sure if I went out of my way to say hi -- you just never expect when you see someone regularly for years this could possibly be the last time.) I remember him back in Enterprise days and he seemed a bit more quiet back then. In recent years he seemed more happy and open and healthy and in good cheer. I saw him for a monthly dinner I attended regularly for awhile, and got to spend some time talking with him there. Damn, he was one of the good ones; too early a departure.

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  • Sally RyenJuly 05, 2014 - 4:07 pm

    I honestly don't remember how this comedy routine/tradition began, but Jeff wished me a "happy birthday" every day I saw him. He would insert the greeting into the conversation at different times, so it always caught me by surprise. Sometimes he led with it, sometimes he mentioned it in the middle of discussing my story, sometimes he hollered it at me as I left the newsroom. It was ridiculous how it caught me off guard EVERY SINGLE TIME, so much so that I would enthusiastically and sincerely reply, "Thank you, Jeff!" When he unknowingly got it right on my actual birthday, he didn't miss a beat, just nodded smugly, like he was The Great Carnac or something. The last time I ran into him on the train, we had a nice conversation, and when he left, he said gently, "Oh, and Sally? Have a happy birthday." Thank you, Jeff!

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  • Melanie TurnerJuly 09, 2014 - 9:25 am

    To me, Jeff had such a big personality and he was such a good-hearted soul that it’s hard to believe he’s gone. Jeff was my news editor – my first – for 10 years. He was amazing at keeping in touch, and seemed to value his friendships dearly. These days, whenever I would run into Jeff at Cal EPA headquarters I was always excited to see him. My greeting was simply, “Jeff!” It was a happy occasion just running into Jeff. Maybe it was because he’d been my mentor and friend for more than 20 years. But it was something more, too. Jeff was such a warm, friendly and funny person. I will miss his good-natured humor and witty banter. I think he had a way of making us all feel sort of special. I will miss you, Jeff!

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  • Don PeriJuly 09, 2014 - 9:26 am

    Jeff edited many of my reports at CalRecycle and he did an outstanding job, catching every grammatical error and improving the narrative in many ways. I recognized him when he first came to CalRecycle because my wife works at the Davis Enterprise and I had seen him at parties and in the newsroom. We rode the Capitol Corridor together, attended a function at the railroad museum, and he attended one of my talks at the Walt Disney Family Museum. I always appreciated his sense of humor, his professionalism, and his friendship. We will miss you, Jeff.

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  • Pam MacLeanJuly 10, 2014 - 8:40 am

    Jeff was one of the funniest, sweetest people I've known. Bruce, you captured him well, particularly the 'no features' side. He loved breaking news. And he had a talent for headline writing most people never master. One of my favorites was for a story in Davis about firefighters who had to rescue a pet pig from a tree. Jeff's headline: Pig's Feat. Jeff was one of the kindest and most generous people and he loved talking about how much kids enjoyed the Polar Express Christmas train ride. I miss not hearing that laugh.

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  • Pamela MartineauJuly 13, 2014 - 5:42 pm

    I was out of town and missed this sad news. I just learned today of Jeff's passing. I was a cub reporter when I worked for Jeff at The Enterprise. I learned so much from him by listening to him talk to sources on the phone. Polite, yet direct and persistent when he needed to be. I ran into Jeff a few weeks ago in downtown Sac. He seemed happy with life. And as always, so warm yet funny, with his quiet, quick wit. He shall be missed and remembered.

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