COOS BAY — Thank you, Larry Campbell.
This is a Cuisine column in name only this week, and in the fact that Sports Editor John Gunther and I took Larry out to dinner at Benetti's on his penultimate night with the paper.
As most of you already know, our Managing Editor Larry Campbell left the newspaper business on Friday.
I know as a staff, we will miss him. As a community we are going to miss him as well even if you don't know it yet.
When Larry joined us on July 22, 2013, we heralded him as "a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and former Associated Press bureau chief." As he leaves, we can add mentor, friend and staunch community supporter to that resume.
While Larry's legacy will live on in the reporters and editors he has worked with here over the last four years, we should not forget what he also brought to the South Coast.
I'm not sure if Larry had ever been to Coos Bay before he started working here. But he did have serious ties to Oregon, having gone to the University of Oregon, and having worked for a spell in Portland.
He believed in Coos Bay and the Bay Area right from the start.
He realized quickly the blessings we have here, with the coast, rivers, lakes and hiking and biking trails. It's a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and Larry enjoyed a lot of it from the seat of his motorcycle.
He also recognized how the area was changing. He knew that this had been a logging and fishing region until the 1980s, but knew the region was trying to reshape itself in this new economy.
And he did everything he could to make us see that this was a place worth fighting for.
And he did.
He wanted our elected officials to know that as a community we wanted -- and expected -- more out of them. He didn't want to know how we were just going to "get along," he wanted to know how we could move forward.
He didn't want to hear any pie-in-the-sky ideas about huge corporations coming here to save the day. He knew that true progress only came from starting from within, and it takes lots of small steps to create real progress.
Pipeline ideas have been around for more than a decade, and they might be around for another decade. Larry had seen pipelines come and go in Alaska and knew that, yes, they can be good for a while, but they also bring problems, and if they don't work out, it's just as bad on the other side.
So he fought for things like changing the South Coast Community Foundation board that would handle the Community Enhancement Plan; he also made sure we shed light on problems that were going on at Baycrest Memory Care; and when politicians took advantage of campaign finance reporting rules.
For two of those subjects, The World won the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association's prestigious Public Service Journalism Award. Both led to major changes in the community, and even state legislation.
This award is only given to one paper in the state every year (regardless of size) and Larry guided The World's staff to winning this award two years in a row (we won't know if there is a three-peat until next month when the award is given at the annual ONPA conference. That would be a fabulous sendoff).
He also wanted to focus on what was right in our community. Thus, the beginning of South Coast Strong, which focused on businesses and business owners that found a way to thrive during tough economic times.
This occasional series turned into a six-section special section last year. The community got to see all the ways that we are moving forward. South Coast Strong will make another appearance in July. It will be a bit smaller than last year, but Larry wanted it that way with the focus to be more specific.
We also put more teachers and educators in the spotlight, with some of the wonderful things they do for our children every day.
It was nice having Larry in that office to my left, watching over things, and like a lighthouse, guiding us all in the right direction.
So, when it really was apparent that he was leaving, I gave him his choice of eating at any restaurant in the Bay Area for this going away dinner.
He chose Benetti's.
"In all my time here," he said. "I've never been there."
That was good enough for me. I love it when people are willing to try new things and go to new restaurants.
We got to enjoy dinner, share stories and for two hours we talked very little about the newspaper or Larry's imminent departure. There was no reason for tears, we'd done that at the cake ceremony we had at the paper several hours earlier.
It was a wonderful dinner. And Benetti's did it's part by setting us up with a table upstairs next to the windows with a view of the Coos Bay Boardwalk and the marina.
Before we made the reservations, Larry asked me if Benetti's served ravioli. I assured him that they did. He took one look at the menu, went right beyond the ravioli item and said one word, "Gnocchi."
And that's what he ordered, and then he added a meatball.
John ordered the Half and Half plate with the lasagna and the cannellonii and I had the chicken parmigiana. While it's a safe selection for me, it has been a while since I've had the chicken parm at Benetti's.
Cutting into the chicken breast and watching the cheese ooze out is wonderful.
We all left happy and very full.
Thanks again, Larry. It was an honor to work for you.