Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Miami Herald lost a bit of its heart and soul today

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." ~Elmore Leonard

I've lived in Miami for a lot of years and I can't remember there ever being a Miami Herald without Margaria Fichtner.

And while I can't remember every story she wrote, I'm pretty sure that when I did read one, I didn't skip over any parts.

Margaria's last day at the Herald was Thursday. She worked at the paper 42 years.

Some of her colleagues paid tribute to her in an email that was circulated in the newsroom.
From: Andrews, Pat - Miami
Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2011 5:24 PM
To: MIA Newsroom
Subject: Goodbye to a dear friend - Ms. Margaret Maria Fichtner

At 3:58 p.m. today, after 42 years of very excellent service to The Miami Herald, Ms. Margaret Maria Fichtner left the building. This much has been confirmed. Because you would not have seen this note – or that full name - if she hadn’t.

No cookies, she said.
No cake.
No page (we ignored her on that. Gotta see that page!)
No annoying PDAs.
And no stupid speeches! She loathed speeches - unless they could be caressed lovingly into a riveting narrative – about someone else.

But, we simply could not allow more than four decades of such talent, tradition and history walk out the door without note. Especially since she was once Herald Club Editor. As in: she handled coverage of women’s clubs, a truly astounding concept on several levels.

So, some memorable Margaria moments from a handful of her friends and colleagues, current and former:

Beth Dunlop: So I don't think there's ever been a better writer on the pages of The Herald. Truly. Over the many years, I've often found myself wishing that Margaria would write a novel, just so I could read it, and re-read it. Lately though, she's been my editor, and I can only say that there are editors, and there are great editors -- and of course, Margaria is a great editor, the one that you always, always, always want to do your best work for and who won't mind that you ended a sentence (or even a phrase) with a preposition if it's in service of the language or the meaning or the rhythm of the language or the quest for the meaning. There really aren't many, anywhere. I mean it. Um, was I supposed to be funny here?

Ana Veciana Suarez: When I started at The Miami News, before the invention of computers, I wanted to be Margaria. I dreamed of being Margaria. Or, at least, writing like Margaria. Having been edited by her, I can tell you that even her editing notes and explanations are exquisite.

Leonard Pitts: "She's one of - if not the best - damn writers at the Miami Herald.''

Joan Chrissos: My most memorable Margaria moments - Arguing with Jacob Goldstein over the precise word. Getting her started on Enrique Fernandez. Shuddering over Shelley's soliloquies over Art Bah-Zal. Editing her beautiful story on Miss Hazel - with this glorious line, “She has learned that even she, who regards the English language as the glorious trumpet of the angels, may never quite make peace with its inconsistencies and flaws.”

Ellie Brecher: For whatever reason, a lot of stray dogs end up in The Herald parking lot. They are, invariably, scraggly, pathetic, and in need of expensive veterinary care. In other words: irresistible to Margaria, who took them home, where they lived for longer than any canines in the history of the world.’’

Jane Wooldridge: Despite her passion for Ralph Lauren jackets, Margaria spent two years as the editor of Elan, a sleek section showcasing fashion and society events in the mid-1980s. (The fact that Margaria dislikes both was not a factor in its demise.) One of her grandest entrances came during Elan's early days, when Margaria was greeted by 1 Herald Plaza's Features staff with a wheelchair and walker on the occasion of her 40th birthday.
She has saved many reporters from lives of poor taste and worse grammar, including the long-lost "Pink" Ellie (Elinor Burkett), Jane “which fork do I use” Wooldridge and Peggy “I'll wear Vittadini” Landers. Margaria has long celebrated holidays by taking each of her dogs out for a separate ride in the car. The cats, not so much.

Dora Bain: Not having had any children of her own, she took on the role of “godmother” to several children of Herald staffers. She never took a real lunch break; instead she would take that that hour to go home to walk her dogs. She rescued and found homes for many dogs and cats that she couldn’t take home because she had too many of her own.
There are quite of few stories in the Herald archives with Margaria's byline. Here's one that I somehow missed the first time around.

Friday, September 11, 1987
By MARGARIA FICHTNER Herald Staff Writer

The job: Has worked 30 years at Miami's Knowles Animal Clinics, for the past 25 as the staff's expert at assisting dogs that are too innocent, confused or just plain reluctant to mate by themselves. "They're pampered types of dogs , many of them. They just don't know what they're supposed to do. I tell people sometimes to get their dogs some Hustler magazines so they'll get the idea."

The specifics: Don't ask. When people inquire of Chester what he does for a living, "I tell them I work in a veterinarian's office."

The demand: Surprising. Chester assists at two or three matings a week, with August and September the year's prime months. "People ship their dogs to me from all over the country." Most pairings are prearranged, but Chester will recommend likely candidates for dog owners seeking partners for their pets. "If they need help, they call me."

The stubborn: "Dogs are very individual, like people. There are some more temperamental than others. Every once in a while you run across a female that definitely doesn't like the male, or a male that doesn't like the female, but not too often. Males being males, they're not quite as fickle, excuse my saying it, as females."

The success rate: Almost 100 percent. Grateful owners occasionally name their pets' offspring Jimmy or Chester in his honor.

The cost: $30 up.

The technique: Developed "I guess by trial-and-error or on- the-job-training. It's something most veterinarians can't do, and most breeders can't do. I've shown a lot of people how to do it, but even then, some people just never learn." Some of the more complicated mating procedures must be supervised by a veterinarian, but Chester tries to keep things as natural as possible, given no moonlight, roses or champagne.

The greatest challenge: A pair of 200-pound mastiffs. "I needed a couple of people to help because of their size, but they did just fine."

The limits: "I don't do cats. Cats are very serious about their sex lives, and they're real secretive."

The personal side: Born in Albany, Ga., 50 years ago. Came to South Florida in 1957. Had one brief job before he came to work for Knowles. Divorced father of six grown children. Lives in Northwest Miami with one dog -- a Labrador mix named Yellow -- and Speckles the cat.

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