Momentarily without the cigar in his mouth, sleeves rolled up, that is John R. Bott, late editor of The New Mexican and former longtime city editor of the New York Post, reaching for the phone and growling orders as he makes sure the paper gets out in Santa Fe in 1974.
Mr. Bott — and I never called him anything else — was the man who gave me my break in the newspaper business. Working his way up from copy boy to running the show, Bott had been the Post in New York for nearly 40 years before coming west to edit The New Mexican. I was tending bar in downtown Santa Fe and Bott knew my father from older newspaper days and remembered me from my periodic visits to plead for a job.
He was on his way out of the restaurant where I worked one night. I’m sure I had mixed him a couple of martinis. He looked back over his shoulder as he passed the bar and asked, “You still intererested in the newspaper business?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Bott. I always will be,” I remember answering.
“Come in and see me on Monday,” he said. Then, with a gravely laugh as he walked out the door: “But you aren’t going to get rich.”
He started me on a six-month tryout that Monday at $99 a week. I listened to every word he said. He had me lay out pages and write headlines to start, even though I didn’t know a pica pole from a photo wheel and only the backshop guys kept my my invariably foot-long heds from ending my career. Every morning but once, I made it in before 6 a.m to rip the wire, clean the Unifax machine and plop Mr. Bott’s cup of coffee on his desk before his wooden leg and first cigar came promptly through the newsroom door. He finally sent me out on my first reporting assignment, probably chuckling after I left. Unless it truly was a nightmare, I believe it was a conference of nuclear physicists at St. John’s College.
I kept the bartending job to help makes end meet. But under Mr. Bott’s seasoned eye, I got my legs under me as a reporter and editor.
Forty years later, I remain grateful, although not rich.