When longtime Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin columnist Bill Stanley died last month at 80, the paper decided to publish a tribute section to the local icon. But what was unusual in this case was that months before, Norwich Bulletin editor James Konrad had reached out to Bill and asked him if he would be willing to be interviewed for his own obituary. Bill agreed, and reporter Adam Bowles spent hours interviewing him. The piece was published in a special section May 2.
We asked Jim how the project came together:
1] Tell us a little about Bill Stanley?
Bill was a lifelong Norwich resident, who held a variety of jobs in his life, including Norwich Bulletin photographer, stockbroker (where he made and lost fortunes), politician, amateur historian and, for the past 20 years, a columnist. He told about how great Norwich, a struggling city now, was when he was growing up through the 1960s. He also talked about Norwich’s role in history, including being the birthplace of Benedict Arnold and the hometown of the first president of the United States (actually the Continental Congress, but Bill argued that was a technicality). He became the face and voice of the city. I also say he told his stories – Bill was dyslexic, and didn’t write. He would dictate his stories to his longtime secretary.
2] How did the project come about?
For years, I had lunch every month or so with Bill, who would fill me in on political scoops, push his projects, and tell some stories about the old days. I knew Bill’s popularity and how others would like to hear about his life. Late last summer, I asked Bill if he would sit with Adam Bowles and essentially work with Adam on his obituary. I told Bill I wanted to do something special after he passed. I also told him I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that something special for 20 years, but wanted to be ready just in case.
3] What did you learn in the project?
Preparation and long-range thinking will pay off. Adam left the Bulletin in February, and hadn’t finished the Stanley project. But he was a good 85 percent there. After Bill died, we had 2 weeks to get the project into the paper. Adam worked hard to get it finished fast. It wouldn’t have happened at all if he hadn’t been working on it for several months. The Stanley piece is the second we’ve done on longtime columnists. When our Outdoors writer, Bob Sampson, hit his 35th anniversary here a few years ago (he started young), we did a 16-page tab featuring some of his best-known columns. I guess the point is, see what resources you have, and use them to their potential.
Page 2 of 2 - 4] What has been the reaction?
The community, especially some of the older folks who related to Bill’s stories of schools, neighborhoods, family, etc., have been very enthusiastic. I had a conversation with Bill’s son, who was appreciative, and while reading the section I told him I could almost hear his dad telling the stories.
5] Will you do it again?
Maybe not to this scale. But I do think there is value to preparing life stories about prominent people. We are working on a project now in which we will have at least one prominent person from each beat profiled – not to the extent of the Stanley piece, but we will be prepared.