Portraits of the newsman
Friends, colleagues, rivals and antagonists remember Dennis Myers
When I started as a student journalist at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Sagebrush in 2004, I came to know Dennis Myers through his prolific byline. The man knew Nevada. He knew Reno. And he knew right from wrong. In short, it was easy to tell he worked to make this community and our state better. For a young journalist, there were few local bylines better to learn from than Dennis Myers.
When I came back to work in Reno in 2011 as a city hall reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal, I’d occasionally run into Dennis while on the beat. It was easy to tell when he showed up to a meeting, since he’d usually introduce his presence by taking a photo with a small digital camera he always seemed to have on his person. My reporting would occasionally get a mention—or sometimes a critique—in Dennis’ coverage of the city. Both were always appreciated.
The last time I saw Dennis was this summer when he showed up to a news meeting the RGJ held for the public at Rounds Bakery. First, he took a photo of me with his camera. Then, in his gruff manner, asked if I could talk about my relatively new role as executive editor of the Gazette Journal. I immediately agreed. He turned on his analogue tape recorder and questioned me about the state of the newspaper industry—the uncertainty, the changes, the troubles. I told him I remained optimistic for the future despite everything, because journalism matters. It has to. Dennis is the one who taught me that.
What makes life richer? Extraordinary people. Dennis Myers was one of those extraordinary people. He devoted a significant part of his life to his calling: journalism. He loved a good story that made an impact or looked at things in a different way. He hated journalism that was “an inch deep,” so he devoted himself to being the opposite. Whether it was extensive microfiche research or speaking to dozens for a story, his stories were deep, rich and thoughtful. When I think about my best memories in my 16 years in Carson, I think about the people who made the experience richer. Dennis was one of those people.
Dennis Myers annoyed the hell out of me. He was always around with that camera, snapping shots when I was trying to interview someone.
He wrote a very kind review of my book when it came out almost 20 years ago, but, of course, he found an error in my recitation of Nevada history.
And he wrote these long, contextual and insightful pieces about the intersection of issues and politics that … I wish I had written.
When I heard he had passed away, I was sad—for his friends and family and for Nevada, which lost one of its hardest-working and most trenchant chroniclers. Dennis and I were not friends, but we were friendly, and we had both been around a long time. His pieces in the Reno News & Review were always worth reading, and I regularly would learn something. Often he had a clear point of view, but he always tried to look at both sides.
As a friend of mine emailed me after his death: “I didn’t always agree with Dennis’ interpretations but no one could question his love for Nevada.”
I’ve been perusing the few dozen emails I have from him over the years and they really capture who he was.
After a legislative column, in which I had used an obscure word, he emailed: “What, did you swallow a book by William F. Buckley, Jr.?”
When I took a job as a columnist for the RGJ, he had three words for me: “Good luck, kiddo.”
And after The Indy had been around for awhile, he emailed: “I want to tell you, the Independent has really done a good job since it came on the scene. It’s very helpful to me. You should all be proud of your work. Thank you.”
I’ve known Dennis Myers since my early days in politics and have both enjoyed his company and respected his writing over the years. His acute insight and ability to get the story behind the story were valuable assets which benefited the reading public and policy makers alike. Nevada loses a powerful voice with his passing.
Dennis Myers and I met on August 6, 1969, at Fort Lewis, Washington. I remember exactly because I said goodbye to my parents on my birthday, August 4. I was 22, and the Vietnam War was at its height. I was not confident I would ever see them again. On the 5th, I was sworn into the U.S. Army, a draftee. I flew into Fort Lewis, near Seattle, late at night, and we were told to take any open bunk. So I did, a lower bunk. I heard another group come in about 3 a.m. We were rousted out of bed before dawn. A stranger jumped down from the upper bunk. We shook hands. His name was Dennis Myers.
Dennis and I became buddies during those two months, often pairing for combat training. There were eight of us who were college grads, around my age. The rest were scared 18-year-olds just out of high school. The sergeants loved to terrorize them. Us, sure, but I suspect they knew we were quietly laughing at them and knew their power was limited.
Eventually, I was assigned to the television production unit at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. In order to avoid going to Vietnam, Dennis extended his service for another year. I often called him a “lifer,” and we both laughed. He was assigned to Military Police (MP), absolutely the wrong place for a bookish, sweet-natured pacifist. But this was the Army in war time. He was assigned to Germany where he found high drug use among bored draftees.
I got a weekend job at UPI Audio, covering most anything that was happening in Richard Nixon’s Washington. Dennis eventually got assigned to Fort Dix, in New Jersey. When he could get time off, he came and stayed with me at my apartment in Wheaton, Maryland. That proved helpful because the massive anti-war marches were underway. If he put down he was going to Washington, leave would not get approved. But Wheaton seemed safe. I covered the marches as a UPI reporter while secretly a member of the military. And he attended as well. At the hospital, I met hundreds of soldiers, their bodies and faces torn apart from a war that should never have happened. He saw Jane Fonda and other anti-war luminaries at small rallies. He wanted me to run for office in Nevada after we got out.
Around 1973, Dennis and I were roommates for a time in Reno. I got a job back in my old radio/TV station where I worked during college. Dennis wrote and published, in television news for several years, then in small papers.
This proved a difficult time in our relationship because I knew I was gay, yet I found it difficult to discuss with Dennis or even my own family. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York launched gay liberation but that was in big cities, not little Reno. We split as roommates, and I knew my reasons to him made no sense. And I felt terrible, but I had to figure out who I was. Yet, he guessed, and we eventually resumed our friendship, even if we never discussed it for many years.
He offered advice, contacts and encouragement when I ran for the State Assembly in 1974. I beat the Republican incumbent, and he was an unofficial adviser on some of my legislation, such as amending the reporter’s Shield Law, open meeting revisions and even environmental issues. One term, I chaired the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Las Vegas heard the federal government wanted to dump nuclear waste at a site just north of Las Vegas. A resolution urging the government to do that, and bring in lots of jobs, was before my committee. Dennis and I thought it was idiotic, but Vegas had the votes. So we agreed that my questioning would focus on scientists who could give us worst-case scenarios if radiation leaked. They said it would not impact Reno. So I let it out of committee, voting no, as Dennis reminded me recently, and we laughed that politicians in Southern Nevada were now adamantly opposed to such a site.
In my first term, a man I dated for a brief period called the Chair of the Washoe County Democratic Central Committee and said I was gay. The Chair called Dennis since she knew we were friends. Being gay was a potential career-ender in that era. He said it was not true and he would know because we had been roommates. A true statement. Even if we had not yet discussed it, he had my back.
Sergeant Dennis C. Myers, I salute you. It was an honor to have served together.
I loved Dennis’ autobiographical cover story “The Painting.” His intense feelings for the beauty of that piece of art seem to contrast sharply with the snap-happy, oddly framed news photos that he would give us designers to run in print, which always threw us for a loop.
We designers affectionately begrudged receiving “a Dennis photo” and never quite knew how best to crop it on the page, only to shrug it off and know it was just how he did things. Us design folk would have serious discussions about giving Dennis a new camera—for years—considering what kind of camera he could wield best, a camera to fit in his pocket, what resolution he would need, and so on. We would chitter to ourselves year after year, until one year we delighted in the fact that Dennis attended our Photography for Journalists presentation in the Sacramento office, but laughably lamented his falling asleep in the conference chair halfway through said presentation.
On my first day back in the Sacramento office after a year hiatus, I was told Dennis had passed away a few days prior. The paper still had to go to print.
It’s hard to grapple with—this person who I worked with two hours away always existed as a stalwart figure of good journalism and bad photography, and now he’s gone even further than the far reach of a ringing telephone or a curt email.
I’m glad he never changed. I’m glad he was who I knew him to be. I feel affection and respect toward everything I came to know about Dennis, good and bad. And really, there is no bad. Not even bad photography. There’s just the individual way people do things. And Dennis knew art when he saw it.
Dennis would on occasion drop by my UNR office just to say hello or drop off an article, usually about poetry/poets, something he thought I might find interesting. He cared deeply about people, and he read deeply and widely, was always able to engage in nearly any conversation on any subject. Of course, his work on the political world resonates most with readers—if I saw his byline, I knew I was going to be reading the truth. Capital T.
I expected to see Dennis at opening day of the Legislature and at presidential campaign rallies, wearing a trench coat, as if from a different era, and with a camera, to document Nevada’s political history in the making. There was no need to explain to Dennis the background of Nevada’s unique issues: MX, Sagebrush Rebellion, Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste, military land and airspace overreach, Las Vegas Water Grab. Dennis remembered those conflicts and had reported on them for decades. He understood the connective tissue that undergirds these great Nevada struggles and gives them surprising resilience and endurance in the face of adversity. Dennis’ passing is a profound loss for Nevada.
Dennis Myers was a very private person. I was shy about getting to know him, and I wish I hadn’t been. He let his sense of humor sneak out every so often. I remember for one particularly uncomfortable mass office email regarding a shortage of tickets for an event, he retorted back with, “And here I’ve been handing them out to homeless people.” That was when I realized that Dennis was a funny guy. I’ve always admired people who don’t say much but really say something meaningful when they do.
In a piece he wrote for Black History Month this past February, Dennis Myers quoted the maxim, “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” adding his own comment, “That is a good reason to learn real history and not the sanitized version given to us by state textbook officials who pressure publishers to clean up the past and make it more palatable and less useful.”
It was a rare direct criticism of historical whitewashing from a writer who generally let his choice of subject matter speak for itself. Dennis’ command of Nevada’s political history was legendary. But to those who followed his work, it was clear that Dennis believed even more broadly in the power of historical memory, not only to provide context for contemporary political and social issues, but to help us to better recognize patterns of injustice and avoid perpetuating them.
That philosophy shone through in his approach toward historical commemorations. For Nevada’s sesquicentennial in 2014, Dennis chose to compose not a celebratory list of state milestones, but an anecdotal overview of Nevada’s shameful treatment of its tribal communities, who have reason to interpret the state’s history as something other than a narrative of continuous progress.
Dennis composed several features in a similar vein on the occasion of Reno’s 150th anniversary in 2018. In his “Secret History of Reno,” published that April, Dennis wrote of some of the wrongs historically endured by Reno’s African American, Native American and Asian American communities, as well as stories of political corruption and oppression of organized labor. He reflected that while admittedly “today’s Reno is not yesterday’s Reno,” abuses of power still occurred, concluding, “Civilization can be a very thin veneer.”
Although professionally devoted to shining spotlights, Dennis was famously private about his own life. But every once in a while, he’d share something personal, usually prompted by some story he was following. Once in 2013, when we were writing back and forth about the history of Interstate 80, he reminisced about growing up in a house at 220 Maple St., one block north of St. Mary’s Hospital. The neighborhood was sliced in two in the mid-1970s by the highway’s construction, but as Dennis wrote, with his distinct brand of rueful humor, “Maple still technically exists for a couple of blocks as the street between the Sierra Street off ramp and the Center Street on ramp next to the News and Review office. In my entire life, I have progressed three blocks.”
Through his life and his enormous body of work, Dennis made clear that our success is not measured by the distance we have traveled, but by the good we have accomplished and the lives we have touched.
Dennis was my only male feminist friend. He was as devastated as I when the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the 1970s. The fact that leadership in both the Nevada Assembly and the Nevada Senate played games made it even worse
Dennis supported a woman’s right to choose. One of the last articles he wrote, this June, was about Campaign for Choice. He will be remembered as a reporter who was always fair, willing to listen and a beautiful writer. Last week, before the news, I planned to call him about AB 186 (the popular vote bill). I often asked his thoughts about an issue or politician. Dennis will be missed by those he covered and those who read his articles.
Dennis Myers was more in my inbox than an in-person contact. There were also occasional phone inquiries. When he was in person out in the world, he usually circulated at a perimeter with an obsolete tiny digital camera. I thought that a classic reporter persona. When I learned he passed, I went back through my inbox and below are some excerpts that capture the Dennis I knew and admired:
“It sounded like you were saying that if they weren’t paid off on time, then they never have to be paid off. I can’t believe that’s the case, so could you tell me what you were saying? And feel free to explain it to me as though I’m seven.” (August, 2013)
“What the heck is the Economic Planning Indicator Committee? Does EDAWN own it? Does the state? Where does it fit?” (Februaury, 2018)
“In the mid-1960s, there was a serious cab war going on, particularly in Clark County—drivers being shotgunned in their cars, that kind of thing. I think that may be why the regulatory agency is at the state level. I’ll see if I can find out more.” (December, 2014)
“Don’t let it grind you down.” (October, 2018)
Frank X. Mullen
Dennis Myers should have worn a battered fedora with a press pass peeking from the hatband. The motto “if your mother says she loves you, check it out!” would not have been out of place on his business cards.
Dennis, my colleague and friend for 30 years, was a shoe-leather reporter, an ink-stained workhorse who launched his career while a student at Reno High School. He was still chasing tips, taking names, and telling truth to power when he died at age 70.
He bounced from newspapers to television news and back again in the course of five decades. We worked for competing Reno media outlets, but if I needed a source or wanted to tap his encyclopedic knowledge of Nevada history and politics, he was always willing to help. Dennis didn’t give a damn about who got what scoops or who won which awards. He was all about the stories, the community and the impact the truth could have on the public good.
Many journalists, me included, have egos the size of Mt. Rose. It comes with the territory. Day after day, we tell people what we think they ought to know. We expect strangers to trust us, and we sign all our work. For scribblers, a high opinion of one’s own ability is a job requirement.
Dennis lacked that arrogance. Years ago, I mentioned I used some of his work in my classes at the Reynolds School of Journalism. He asked if I employed his stories as “cautionary tales,” so the students would know what NOT to do. He did not seem to be joking. No, I told him, his clippings were used as examples of “solid reporting and clear explanatory journalism … ya putz!”
I don’t think he realized how respected he was, both by his peers and his audience. If you want to know what Dennis was up to at any time over the last 50 years, the sum of his professional life is on microfilm and a matter of public record.
Rebecca M. Thomas
The passing of a great person always seems to bring on the serious and the somber, and that is appropriate. Nevertheless, when I think of my friend Dennis, my mind bends toward the less serious. What I will I remember? Sweater vests. Sweater vests that were alternately cringe-worthy and endearing. One of the best things about Dennis is that he really could not have cared less what you thought of him. He was who he was, and that guy wore sweater vests. And loved cats. He would walk half a block in the opposite direction just to bend over and pet a cat.
I remember spending many a Sunday afternoon in dark theaters watching movies—old and new—and then having long discussions over dinner, usually at an old Reno staple such as the Gold ’N Silver Inn or the Halfway Club. Dennis loved those places. Dennis was also a great gift-giver. One of my most prized possessions is an original photo of Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer meeting in Einstein’s office at Princeton. He bestowed this gift on me early in our friendship for no reason other than he knew that I revered both Oppenheimer and Einstein as scientists. Every birthday and Christmas over the past 25-plus years, Dennis would hand me a package, wrapped in the same plain green wrapping paper, containing a book. Not just any book, but a book about a topic we had recently spoken about or in which I had expressed interest. He listened. A byproduct of being a journalist I suppose. Anyone who has received a gift from Dennis knows that green wrapping paper. I always imagined a never-ending roll of green paper in a closet in his apartment. Even that is a reflection of his dedication to journalism. He did not have time to keep track of multiple rolls of wrapping paper with just the right holiday print; he had powerful people to talk to and important stories to write, but wanted to make an effort to wrap the gift. Gift bags would have been easier, but the good, old-fashioned way was better. This also summed up his thoughts about cell phones, e-readers, and other modern technology. He was an unapologetic Luddite, which was baffling considering his profession and maddening when trying to make arrangements for just about anything.
We will all remember Dennis for the amazing journalist he was, as it should be. But more than that, he was an amazing friend, a true individual, a giant nerd, a gentleman. That guy in a sweater vest following a cat down the sidewalk.
Dennis valued protest and agitation as a vital aspect of political expression. He rode the bus with protestors to Carson City to get a deeper understanding of our issues and motivation. He was the only reporter to cover our action at a fundraiser for Jim “you want slaves you got ’em” Wheeler after the Eric Garner killing.
His TV news stories on Dr. Susan Chandler’s research on casino women and the fight for living wages in Nevada in the late ’90s should have gotten an Emmy.
In 2017, I had the honor of introducing him at the 29th annual Human Services Award brunch when he received the Media Representative of the Year award. Here is the introduction to those remarks:
The name of Harry Truman’s biographical play and film is “Give “Em Hell Harry! It’s from a line when President Truman was asked why he gave Republicans so much hell. He replied “I just gave him the truth, and they thought it was hell” That is Dennis Myers, speaking truth to power in Nevada for decades, and many thinking he was giving ’em hell.
Dennis Myers was always lurking with that camera, documenting everything. Occasionally he would send photos he took of me on the job. They were rarely flattering. But Dennis understood better than most in our profession that flattery is not the realm of journalists. We dwell in the harshness of reality, shining an antiseptic light on the darkness that hides problems that aren’t necessarily seen but are often felt. Dennis worked these kinds of stories with precision, tenacity and a depth of feeling necessary for true meaning. His work made our community stronger and a better place to live. From time to time, Dennis would send me brief and sincere compliments on my work. I always held them dear. In his last email to me, Dennis wrote “there is a special place for those who help unfortunate people and innocents.” I can only think he’s resting comfortably there now.
For this Native American journalist, Myers was an ally. He comprehended the unique ethics we face, and was always seeking, researching, going straight to the source and including Native content in the RN&R. That spirit of inclusion deepened our respect for each other as storytellers—and made us friends. So naturally, I notified Dennis when I lost my beloved Uncle Dennis Banks, cofounder of the American Indian Movement, on Oct. 29, 2017. Myers understood the depth of our family’s loss—then, only four days later, Dennis Myers lost his son, David Wayne Myers Dean, at age 47.
Last Christmas, I emailed a pair of season’s greetings to Dennis; the first included quotes from Groucho Marx’s 1953 Christmas letter to Fred Allen, saying, “Now the melancholy days have come … So you see, the life of a rich man isn’t all beer and skittles. … We, too, have our troubles, just the same as the lowly commoner and the shepherd in the hills.”
Dennis replied with his customary style of sharing the real story behind the story, replying: “About 60 years ago, Groucho wrote, ’The last days of the newspapers seem to be rushing towards us with frightening speed,’ and added, with first-person perspective, ’It took a while, but that sentence is now accurate.’”
The second holiday email I sent to Dennis was intended to make him laugh: “It just occurred to me,” I wrote, “a sugarplum is really just a fancy prune. Merry Christmas anyway!”
In steadfast fashion, even Myers’ emails were likely fact-checked to perfection—and his capacity to memorize voluminous facts, which were likely already in the vault, was a vivid representation of how well-read, intelligent and savvy he was—and he promptly replied with a message that will forever make me smile: “Actually, sugarplums are a type of hard candy. The term dates from the 17th century. You’re right that it makes a difference what we call things, though.”
In my Anishinabe culture, we don’t say goodbye—we say something in the nature of, “See you later.” So to you, Dennis Myers, my honored friend and deeply respected colleague, I say, “Be seeing you” on the other side.
It was such an honor to work with Dennis during my five years at RN&R. I was first introduced to him at an office party. I arrived all eager and earnest for the job. He told me “I should have gotten out of this business a long time ago.” (Oh … kay … welcome to Reno to me, I guess! I thought.) We’re all better off for Dennis having stayed in the business.
Far from the grumpy guy I saw in that first impression, I came to find that Dennis Myers was a warm, loyal, dedicated writer and friend. A consummate newsman, yes. But also the man who doted on my daughter when she was a baby. On the occasions when I brought her to work, he would sit right down on the floor with her, talking very gently as he helped her stack blocks. I’ll never forget that image of the two of them.
Long after I left RN&R, I’d get emails from Dennis checking in on me and my family, apologizing to my kids for the future we are leaving them. I will miss his Christmas card this year, which has still found its way to my office desk all these years later.
Other little memories: Dennis walking across the street with his nose in a book. Dennis inside his office piled high with books. He had a little TV in there and a bunch of VHS tapes. When I saw them, I thought, oh, maybe he’s looking at archival footage for news reports. But no, sometimes he’d just be in there watching Westerns. Or napping. But he was no slouch. Always working, always reading, always writing, always hoping the world would come to its senses.
Frankie Sue DelPapa
When a contemporary dies that one has known for over 50 years, it’s natural, I think, to pause and reflect not only on that person but on one’s own mortality.
As for me, I will remember Dennis, not only for his journalistic talents, but for his love of Reno and Nevada; for his smile and slight laugh, and his quirky sense of humor.
Dennis was simply one of the best-ever “good guys.” Dennis C. Myers was a prize for us all. He will be missed.
When I was a reporter for the Sparks Tribune, where Dennis Myers’ column appeared, I was the education reporter. Truckee Meadows Community College was experiencing a budget hole in the beginning of the Spring 2000 semester, which administrators chose to fill by raiding the accounts of student fees. Because I had spent numerous years there previously as a student and served as student newspaper editor and in student government, I was pretty resourceful in developing sources and reported that the root of the problem was due to fiscal mismanagement. Dennis started covering the story for KOLO News Channel 8, which gave the story a wider audience and gave my story attribution. This infuriated the TMCC administrators and led them to demand I be chaperoned by their Public Information Office staff when I came back on campus. When I told him of their requirement, he laughed and told me to ignore them, encouraged me not to be intimidated and told me I was doing my job as a good reporter. Dennis not only set the bar for being a hard nose journalist, but taught by example. The best teachers always do.
Dennis and I had desks next to one another at the old RN&R office, and the closest window was always covered in streams of fresh pigeon shit. The situation disgusted everyone else, but for us, it was worthwhile because we got to see the pigeons come and go, and we really did love them, and it’s not like it was anyone else’s window anyway. Then one day, Dennis was like, “Look up at the nest.”
The pigeons had babies! He even took a picture.
After the chicks flew away—and I do hope that’s what happened—whoever managed the property put up those spiky pigeon-diverter things and cleaned the window. Dennis looked completely crushed. I was, too.
I know it’s a silly story, but it’s one that puts tears in my eyes. Y’all need to know that this fearless man also saw great beauty and sweetness in everyday things.
Dennis had this vibe like he was a loner—it was convincing, too—but then every time we’d walk to lunch or whatever, someone would wave or start hugging on him. One time it was the mayor.
So sorry to hear of the passing of my friend—sometimes antagonist—and classmate Dennis Myers. Dennis was a brilliant and fearless journalist. When Dennis published a story, folks took notice because they knew that Dennis had done his homework, invariably had his facts right, and reported with professional integrity. Dennis loved journalism and did his chosen profession proud. He will be particularly missed by his profession, which sorely needs more people like Dennis Myers in its ranks.
I worked with Dennis Myers at KOLO and the RN&R. My favorite story about Dennis involved both of us, and both of those news organizations. I had recently applied for a job as a web reporter at KOLO and had just received an offer of employment. On the way home, I stopped by UNR Police Services to find out more about the Brianna Denison investigation. I was greeted with a great deal of suspicion and interrogated on more than one occasion and even had to submit to a DNA test. That was the climate during that time, and it cost me the new job at KOLO. I told Dennis and Brian Burghart what happened, and they said I should write a story for the RN&R. Dennis anticipated more tension with the police and quickly wrote me a letter of permission on RN&R stationary to be allowed on campus on behalf of the RN&R. It read: “To whom it may concern: Dylan Riley is reporting on campus affairs for the Reno News & Review. Any questions regarding him should be directed to me at DennisM@Newsreview.com. Thank you, Dennis Myers.” He signed it and put it in an envelope and told me to keep it with me at all times. This helped me write my story “A shadow over campus,” which I probably couldn’t have done without him.
As an advocate for economic and social justice at the Nevada Legislature for 30 years, I often worked with Dennis Myers. Dennis was always there for the issues least covered by most TV stations. And he always wrote in-depth articles about the plight of single women with children.
One time he was covering a bill to change welfare in Nevada and came to the ranch where I lived to speak to a longtime advocate for low-income women, Maya Miller. And he’d brought a camera crew. I greeted him and told him Maya was out of town so he insisted on interviewing me even though I was not prepared and dressed in my most casual costume. He was relentless.
I knew if an issue was being covered by Dennis Myers, both sides would be heard. Always professional.
I thought you would live the nine lives multiplied by all the cats you’ve rescued over the years. I remember the time your undetected ulcer was bleeding the life out of you. We sat over dinner at our favorite, Mama Casale’s Halfway Club, your face paler than typing paper. The next day, the ER docs said had you lost any more blood internally, you wouldn’t have made it. But you came back to fight, and to write, another day—another many, many days.
You once asked me what I would do with all the money I could ever hope for. I started dreaming aloud of the marvelous trips I’d take and of the freedom I’d have to pursue any career dream.
“What would you do with all the money you could hope for, Dennis?”
“I’d buy each of my friends a home.” I knew you meant it.
Over the years and dozens of stories I wrote under your green editor’s pen, we made it work. Years after our love relationship grew into friendship, you nominated me for the Nevada Press Association best news story of the year. I won that award, one of the finest moments of my life.
You were like that, giving many people the finest moments of their lives.
Our greatest pain happened when I moved away for a promotion. That final morning together in Richland, January 2006, we sat in a Denny’s. We could barely eat for sobbing.
Over the years after I moved back to Reno, you and I continued seeing each other, now friends as deep as before we were lovers. We laughed the same. We thought nearly the same on politics and peace and movies. We fought the same. People thought we were married.
Years later, I did marry. You couldn’t have been happier for me and for Don. As my best man, you toasted us unparalleled at our wedding reception.
After moving to Madison, my life grew hard. It’s a harsh environment here, as I told you on more than one phone call. The weather is brutal, the culture cold. But worst of all were the deaths. I’ve lost two friends, a cousin and a brother.
After my absence by phone and email for nearly a year, I called you a few weeks ago to share all my sadness. Dennis, you weren’t always the best at comforting me, but this time you were there for me. Your heart was full of the tenderness so many of us knew and loved. You spoke words of healing, and once again, I felt as connected to you as before. The years and miles melted away through the crackly cell call, and I was once again at home with you, my dear friend.
Now you are gone, but you live in my heart. You are Nevada. You are a journalist’s journalist. You are a friend to the poor and the powerless. You are a friend to all who knew your heart.
I love you.
Dennis was increasingly frustrated with the limitations of broadcast news. When he and I were in our more incipient days, we generally had about 1:45 for packages (the stories in which reporters lay down a voice track and edit video over it, complete with soundbites). The only times I ever saw Dennis angry—and really, it was more frustration—was when he wanted more time for his stories and was refused. He argued endlessly about how he couldn’t possibly cover the legislature in such a short amount of time. His stories routinely ran at least :30 seconds longer than their allotted time, and often were longer than that. Plus, as he was running back to the station last-minute to put his stories together, they were turned in at the last possible second, giving the producers no time to hand them back and tell him to shorten them. Dennis was responsible for countless days of shortened sports casts or time stolen from the weather, which did not endear him to our sports or weather teams. His retort was, “How long does it take to say ’clear and sunny’?”
As the news became more and more beholden to advertisers, and Dennis was given less leeway in his story times, he came up with a new idea. If they wouldn’t give him the time he wanted, he’d simply talk as fast as he possibly could. The result were many stories that were barely understandable because his voice track sounded like an auctioneer on amphetamines. It was comical. But Dennis was determined, and refused to give an inch on what he considered important information.
It was no surprise that he returned to his great love, print!
D. Brian Burghart
Dennis Myers only had one boss.
Dennis was a genuinely nice guy. He melted around children and small animals. He never forgot a kindness. He liked horrible showtunes. He remembered birthdays. He wrote “thank you” notes. I think everyone who knew him in more than passing ways are going to have stories about how he’d get down on the floor with their puppy or tickle their toddler’s toes. A lot of friends will tell stories about his naive heart, and a lot of colleagues will talk about his speaking of truth to power.
But what about when, by virtue of your title, you were “the power”? What about when, by virtue of your title, you were his “superior”?
Dennis Myers had no superiors in the newsroom, factually or metaphorically. And if you were “the power” because you were a rung higher on the corporate ladder, he spoke truth to you.
His integrity was his boss. I don’t mean to sound too rhapsodic, because his integrity wasn’t something he ever spoke about. He’d never pound his finger on the AP stylebook or shake the SPJ Code of Ethics at you. His integrity was like gravity: It couldn’t be seen, but its effects were incontrovertible.
Dennis’ journalism was forged in the years leading up to the Vietnam War. He learned his craft at the desk of Walter Cronkite. Dennis learned things in those high school and college years that never grew stale for him. News stories’ lengths were defined not by the space allocated to them, but by the stories themselves. News photos were to be candids; smiles into the camera were frowned upon. Deadlines were more than suggestions, but the higher purpose was the quality of what appeared on newsprint. The idea that news could be decided three months in advance so that photographers could be scheduled, covers designed, deadlines met? Preposterous. News happened when it happened. Period. But the boss of a weekly newspaper could put Dennis’ name on the schedule and know that he was going to have something. And a couple of times a year, it would be amazing.
He couldn’t take a photo, right? The guy had 20 years as a television reporter. He did his own reporting, camera work and editing. Just look at the photography attached to his news stories. Of course he could take a photo. But he took more shots of the backs of people’s heads than any reporter in history. And he did that because he was documenting “The News,” and “The News” was not concerned with who was taking pictures.
He was meticulous about his facts. He chose to express things in a particular manner. His editors were well advised to watch what they trimmed for space up high because Dennis’ logic flowed like lava flows, and editors who cut early sentences would find themselves adrift farther down the story.
Where Dennis was concerned, Dennis’ managers had two jobs. The first was to get between him and those advertisers, politicians and bosses would hamstring his efforts. The second was to enable him to follow his boss’ directions.
I’m honored to have been Dennis Myers’ enabler for a time.
We all know what happens to nice guys. They may die without a house or a car or a 401(k). But a life serving integrity gets a guy like Dennis one thing at the end of it: the admiration of people who respect integrity.
Dennis Myers may have only had one boss, but that boss will be forever proud of him.
Al & Annie Olsen
Our kids have known “Uncle” Dennis Myers from day one of their lives. Perhaps you know them from his Christmas cards as the “Pals.” Many days, when Uncle Dennis came to visit, the real reason was to take one or more of them for a walk. One of his favorite destinations was Manzanita Lake at UNR.
In 1990, our family moved to Algeciras, Spain, and visits to Manzanita Lake were no more. In December 1991, Dennis decided to visit us and spend time with his pals around Christmas. That was one of his favorite times and we always looked forward to what gift he would find for us and wrap in his trademark green wrapping paper.
One morning during that visit, he asked if he could use Al’s mountain bike. He knew that Al would often use it to ride into town to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Lunch time came and went with no word from Dennis. This wasn’t unheard of, but it got us concerned as to where he might be. To our knowledge, he had zero Spanish language skills to help him if he got into trouble. By the time the last rays of the day shone over the hills, we had visions of Dennis being either locked up in some Spanish jail or in a hospital somewhere.
Just about then, he rolled up the street without a care in the world.
“Where have you been? We’ve been really worried about you!”
“I rode to Gibraltar so I could get my passport stamped. Why were you worried?”
It was about 13 miles each way just to get to the border of Gibraltar.
I don’t remember meeting him because I was only a few hours old when I met him. He’s always just been there. For everything. The graduations and weddings. The funerals and memorial services. The birthdays and holidays. Every birthday, we’d each get a gift from him so we could all participate. Wrapped in green paper. Addressed in green ink. From Uncle Duck. He never missed a single birthday.
I always knew he loved me and my siblings. I knew we meant a lot to him. But it wasn’t until he was gone that I understood more fully how much we meant to him. How much I meant to him. There were photos of us everywhere: at his apartment, at his desk, on his filing cabinets. He kept anything that would help him stay connected to us.
Every time I saw him, he always reminded me that “There’s still room for a few more in Reno.” Sometimes it felt like guilt. Other times, it felt like longing for one of us to move back. Other times, it felt like it was the thing he was always compelled to say. Now I know he was simply stating what he wanted to happen.
I don’t know how we got so lucky that he chose us, but we did. Because we moved around a lot, we didn’t have lasting childhood friends. We had Uncle Dennis, who’d been there with us emotionally through every move. He made effort to connect with us that even our grandparents didn’t. He was a childhood friend. He was our sibling, another parent, an uncle, a grandparent and cousin all rolled up in one.
He taught me through his actions. I’ve learned so much about integrity and doing the right thing from how he lived. He is one of the most ethical people I have ever met, without being preachy or endlessly philosophical. Simply practical and grounded in how he approached life. The right things were fixing injustices against women and minorities, standing up to powerful people and institutions, speaking up for those who had been silenced, being kind to others, caring for animals, seeking the truth in complex situations. He lived those beliefs. He didn’t have to say he believed in them to teach me.
I felt like a celebrity when he was around because he documented everything from airport arrivals to Thanksgiving meals. And he never missed an opportunity to get a photo together. During those times we were together, he’d take time with each one of us. Every walk we went on like that, he always asked me the same question, “Are you happy?” Even though I knew it was coming, it always caught me by surprise and made me think. He always made me think, though that wasn’t why he asked. His primary concern was always my well-being.
He was a very private person, so private that I rarely got many stories about him out of him, either in person or over email. So when I learned that I was one of the subjects he frequently talked about, that everyone knew about, I felt humbled and overwhelmed. Humbled that he chose us. Humbled that he so frequently thought and spoke so highly of me, when I had simply taken his presence for granted. I’m overwhelmed by his consistent care and love for me throughout my entire life.
I’ve never met anyone like him. There will only ever be one Dennis Myers.