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Observer Media Group executive editor, co-owner Lisa Walsh dies at 69

Lisa Walsh was a pillar in the Sarasota-Manatee community; a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, sister and daughter; and the backbone of one of the most successful media companies in Florida.

When two Secret Service agents asked then-Longboat Observer Executive Editor Lisa Walsh to back off reporting on the 9/11 terrorists, she politely declined. "We're reporters. That's what we do," she said.
When two Secret Service agents asked then-Longboat Observer Executive Editor Lisa Walsh to back off reporting on the 9/11 terrorists, she politely declined. "We're reporters. That's what we do," she said.
File photo
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From the day she started editing the Longboat Observer to the day she handed over editing duties of the four newspapers she built with her husband, there was never a frantic rush, never a shout, never a tense flurry of activity to meet deadlines. 

No matter how late the papers to the printers or how big the story, Lisa Walsh was never anything but poised. 

It had nothing to do with how much she cared about the papers — and make no mistake, she cared down to the comma — running around barking orders or breathing down reporters’ necks to get copy just wasn’t her nature.

But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t effective. As she leaned over your desk and said, “We’re going to need that story now,” writers got the message. Despite her petite 5-foot-4 frame, perfectly styled hair and manicured nails, she was tough. And everyone knew it.

Of course, everyone knew this by the way she faced challenges — head on. She sought solutions instead of indulging in problems. She let logic prevail over emotion. And in her understated way, whether it was navigating three deadlines a week, sorting out a crisis at a nonprofit or even battling a rare form of Parkinson’s disease for seven years, she led with patience, grace and dignity.

Lisa Walsh

It was that way until the end. She died at 12:25 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, from complications from her Parkinson’s. She was 69. 

Walsh died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. When her health began deteriorating rapidly Tuesday, Sept. 12, doctors gave her four to six hours to live. She kept going for 27 more.

“My mother, tiny though she was, was incredibly strong and determined and never gave up,” said Emily Walsh, her eldest daughter.

Walsh was surrounded when she died by her husband Matt and three adult children, Emily, Kate and Brian. Emily is president of the Observer Media Group and lives in Sarasota with her husband, Pat Robinson, and son Rhys, 13, and stepson, Colin, 13; Kate lives in Colorado Springs and is a co-owner and artistic director of a 500-student ballet school; and Brian lives in Hampstead, North Carolina, where he is a major in the Marines and married to Maria Amodio Walsh; they have two children, Maeve, 6, and Jackson, 3. 

Walsh is also survived by her father, David Beliles, who lives in Sarasota, and her brother, David Beliles Jr., who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

‘Brilliant and beautiful’

On Longboat Key and in Sarasota and east Manatee County, the Walshes are most known publicly for the Observer Media Group, which publishes multiple weekly print publications, seasonal and quarterly magazines and daily news websites. 

But Lisa Walsh, based on accounts from her family and friends in Sarasota and beyond, was much more than a newspaper editor. 

She was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, quick with advice and counsel and also quick to host and prepare a feast-worthy Christmas dinner. She was a behind-the-scenes executive, idea-generating machine and tight-knit business partner with Matt — they were married 47 years — as they and the Observer Media Group navigated the rapidly changing media industry for nearly three decades.

Matt and Lisa Walsh were honored at the AJC Civic Achievement Award Dinner in November 2010. 

Walsh was an intensely loyal philanthropist who gave time and treasure to a host of causes; and a go-to friend for many who loved to giggle with her partners-in-crime while also providing a trusted and empathic shoulder — in addition to recipes, suggestions for books and what TV shows to watch. On that last point, one of her more recent TV recommendations was Bosch, an Amazon Prime show based on the Michael Connelly novels. 

“She was brilliant and beautiful,” said Brian Lipton, director of the West Coast Florida chapter of the American Jewish Committee, one of the organizations Walsh supported. “She was a kind lady and a class act.” 

Three things about Walsh stand out to Lipton: One, she always, without fail, would ask how his husband, Joseph, was doing. Two, unlike some others in the Sarasota event scene, she was a low-maintenance patron, where the cause was more important than the seat she was given. 

And three, she loved newspapers.

“When we were honoring her and Matt for an event I asked her what colors she wanted the theme to be,” Lipton recalls, of the AJC Civic Achievement Award Lisa and Matt received in 2010. “She said ‘I’m a newspaper girl: black and white and red all over.’ I was like, that’s fabulous.”

Early adventures

Walsh was also a woman who believed in taking the high road, in keeping standards high and always making sure your shoes work with your bag. 

For those who worked with her, whether it was in the Observer newsroom or a nonprofit board room, she had a knack for steering conversations and decisions with a rational perspective that was focused on what was best for the organization. She was usually the last to speak, and her comments would ring with clarity and weight.

“Lisa was one of those ‘special people,’” says retired Observer Media Group advertising executive Bob Lewis. “She and I shared an office in the early days on Longboat. It didn't take long to learn that she believed in what she and Matt were about to achieve. She will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will miss her dearly.”

Another longtime Observer Media Group contributor, Molly Schechter, met Lisa Walsh in 1998, when they were neighbors on Longboat Key. They hit it off, and Schechter, a fitness guru with decades of experience in advertising and media, soon started writing a fitness column, Aerobic Grandma, for the Longboat Observer

Schecter became a trusted Walsh family confidant, including attending Christmas dinners. “Nobody left without a full tummy,” she recalls. 

Like many in Walsh’s orbit, Schechter marveled at how good her friend was at taking a story, from a brief to long-form journalism, and making it better. “She probably read and edited millions of words,” Schechter said. “Nothing went to the printer that she didn’t look at.”

Finding Florida

A third-generation newspaper woman, Walsh went to the University of Missouri School of Journalism with the intent of following her father and mother’s footsteps. He was an editor and publisher of newspapers in the Midwest, and her mother, Ruth, was the society editor at one time at the newspaper in Champaign, Illinois.

Lisa Walsh on assignment as a construction worker for a day during her 1974 summer internship at the York News Times (Nebraska).
Courtesy photo

But when Walsh and her future husband wound up in the same newspaper classes in J-school, she switched to advertising. 

That switch came in handy when the Walshes reached the Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas and learned spouses couldn’t work in the same department. 

Lisa sold advertising, while Matt started out as a reporter. 

At the time, she was selling against a lot of radio as her competition, but she had a unique tactic. She would give her potential client a paper to look through and then 30 seconds later, she would snatch it from their hands. 

To their shocked faces, she would tell them: “That’s what you’re doing to your potential buyers with a radio ad.”

In her first year on the job, Walsh became one of the newspaper’s top salespeople. 

As the young couple worked their way up in the company, the Walshes, at age 25, found themselves transferred to South Dakota, where Matt became managing editor of the Brookings Daily Register. 

After one particularly grueling storm, the snow drifts were so high a colleague came to collect Matt from the second-story window of their house and whisked him away on a snowmobile to work. 

That was the end of South Dakota.

Lisa with daughter Kate in 2010
File photo

In no uncertain terms, Lisa told Matt they were done with this stop in their journey. The next one would have to be somewhere with better weather. 

They went to Lisa’s birthplace, Independence, Missouri. Matt was editor of the Independence Examiner, while Lisa continued selling advertising for a sister paper. That is also when their first child, Emily, was born.

The two wanted more — the taste and adventure of a big-city newspaper. Matt went to the Miami Herald, while Lisa stayed home with Emily, and soon after, their second child, Kate.

Copy that

After six years of Miami, at the height of enduring South Florida’s cocaine-cowboy crime, in 1986 they moved to St. Petersburg, where Matt became an editor at Florida Trend and later the Southeast bureau manager for Forbes.

Writing about business triggered an entrepreneurial nerve, so in 1995 the Walshes, along with Lisa’s parents, David and Ruth Beliles, and a small group of investors purchased the Longboat Observer.

Matt and Lisa Walsh at the Longboat Observer office in 1995.

When the Observer’s bookkeeper quit, Matt begged Lisa to take on that job — in addition to her duties raising three children. 

As the Walshes grew the business, Lisa went from bookkeeper eventually to executive editor overseeing all content of four community weeklies — the Longboat Observer, East County Observer, Sarasota Observer and Siesta Key Observer — and Season magazine. 

Despite her title of vice president and executive editor, Lisa was happy to let others have the spotlight. In the business, she let Matt do most of the talking at companywide presentations, but the two shared all big decisions. 

Every business expansion or sale, every hire or fire was discussed around the dinner table — with Lisa providing the level-headed counter balance to Matt’s passion and eagerness to grow.

From the height of the toilets in the ladies room to the fonts of the redesigned print editions to the company’s taglines — many of which she dreamed up in her witty style — decisions were subject to the Lisa taste test. 

Humor was a primary tool for persuasion for Lisa. In response to one angry reader who wrote a searing letter to the editor complaining about the conservative nature of the Longboat Observer’s editorial page and its incorrect bridge column, Lisa retorted: “We do apologize for the error in the bridge column, and in the future, we will keep it just like our opinion page: right.” 

A large part of running an Observer newsroom is training young reporters. Throughout her tenure, she tirelessly groomed class after class of recent graduates, teaching them everything from what photos are best from events to what dress is appropriate for work. 

She had a saying: “We hire you for your brains and ideas.” If a staff member had an idea, he or she had the freedom to make it a reality. The guardrails were on in the editing process, but reporters and designers were free to try new things, start new projects and, especially, have fun. 

When it came to content, Lisa and Matt had a joke: She was fluff, and he was stuff. While he was busy hammering headlines and news coverage, she was dreaming up ideas to involve and represent the community. And on Longboat Key, that means approaching community coverage with humor and a folksiness that many dailies shunned. She believed people didn’t just read newspapers for information — they read them to fall in love with their community.

Paying attention

Devotion to community and her friends and family were another hallmark of Walsh’s life. On the community side, she served as president of the boards of Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center and the Longboat Key Center for the Arts and on the boards of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce and Ringling College Library Association. As the chair of galas for the American Jewish Committee, Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s and Sarasota Ballet, she raised thousands of dollars for those organizations.

Those community activities paid off for Walsh as well. She made close, lasting friendships. Derek Billib, another longtime SPARCC board member, says Walsh was the most sensitive person of their group. “She was so compassionate, sincere and genuine,” Billib said. “When she was talking with you, she was always listening, always paying attention.”

Matt, Lisa and Emily Walsh at the Observer Media Group 2021 annual meeting.
Photo by Jay Heater

Elaine Dabney, who met Walsh 30 years ago when their daughters attended school together, became Lisa’s closest friend during Walsh’s struggle with Parkinson’s. Dabney remembers Walsh pre-Parkinson’s:

“As an observer of people, I would take a step back at events and watch with wonder how this elegantly petite woman would be present in a room with hundreds of people, yet she could command the room with such gentleness. People would naturally be drawn to her, often surrounding her just to be in her presence, like moths to a flame. She was a true powerhouse.”

Walsh and Merry Gnaegy became Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters and roommates in the early 1970s at the University of Missouri. Gnaegy, in fact, introduced Walsh, then Lisa Beliles, to a Mizzou journalism major and baseball player named Matt Walsh, setting the pair up on a blind date. 

Even back then, echoing a theme in her life, Gnaegy says Walsh “always seemed put together. She had that perfect complexion that didn’t require makeup. She was smart, cute and perky, even in our standard attire of overalls, saddle oxfords and red bandanas.”

Walsh became president of the Pi Phi house in her junior year. In recent years, after Walsh became a primary financial contributor to rebuild the sorority house, the sorority named the president’s suite after her, with her name in a plaque on the wall next to the door.

Grand Marshal Lisa Walsh rides in a red Corvette driven by Steve Branham at Longboat Key's 2022 Freedom Fest.

Last fall, on a trip through Columbia, Missouri, Lisa and Matt stopped at the sorority house. She wanted to see the plaque for the first time in person. It was on the second floor of the house — a house with no elevator.

Unable to walk because of her Parkinson’s, with Matt holding her up from behind and bystanders watching in amazement, Lisa held on to the stair railings and pulled herself up two flights of stairs and shimmied down two flights of stairs.

“I learned early on in our marriage,” Matt says, “despite her diminutive size and elegant demeanor, it was never a good idea to tell her she couldn’t do something. She had amazing inner strength and determination; always poised, never a raised voice, never complain; she would do what needed to be done, never giving up. It was that way to her last breath. A role model for us all.”

Memories of Lisa Walsh

A term Lisa Walsh created at the Observer Media Group is “us-y.” It meant: When editors, ad executives and department heads were hiring someone, was he or she “one of us”? Did he or she fit with OMG’s core values? Doing the right things for the right reasons. Finding a way to yes. And more. 

Walsh helped usher, work with and mentor a small army of “us-y” employees, some of whom remain with the company, others who have moved on to different jobs and industries. A sampling of their memories is below:

Mike Eng

East County Observer managing editor, 2003 to 2012; currently editor and publisher, West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer

When I was a college student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, there was one particular professor whose mere mention caused every aspiring reporter to quake. Even years before you’d ever have an encounter with her, you knew her name. Her presence loomed like the end boss of a video game.

And indeed, she was tough — her red-ink comments on your copy felt like daggers, and it seemed like students’ tails were perpetually between their legs. 

But here’s the problem: There was no resolution, no full-circle, “Atta boy,” at the end. We all just received our degrees, turned our tassels and left.

I didn’t have the privilege of working directly with Lisa Walsh until about a decade into my career at Observer Media Group. But even so, her unique and distinct fingerprints were all over our startup East County Observer newspaper. Our version of hyperlocal news (no news is too small), our color palette; our design — it was all Lisa. 

In about 2011, my cheese moved, and I was brought into the downtown Sarasota office to work more closely with the other OMG editors and directly with Lisa. Naturally, I came in thinking I already knew everything.


Forget daggers. There were some days I felt like samurai swords had pierced my very soul. I started questioning everything I thought I knew about news, newspapers, photography, editing, deadlines, headlines. At times, I even wondered if I really wasn’t cut out for journalism, after all.

And then came the conversation that changed my and my family’s lives forever. 

We want to open a new paper in Plant City. And we want you to go and do it.

It all clicked. I was being put through a gauntlet of sorts — not as some cruel joke but rather to prepare me for every possible challenge that could lie ahead. It wasn’t that Lisa didn’t believe in me. It was that she did. 

Atta boy, indeed.

Observer Media Group opened the Plant City Observer in 2012.

Since that year — now more than a decade ago — I’ve been able to take on every role and challenge sent my way with the confidence and knowledge that Lisa thought I was good enough to handle it.

Even though Lisa was not directly involved with the Plant City newspaper or our newspapers in the Orlando area (where I now work), she has been and will continue to be on every page of every edition we publish. 

Most important, she’s in our daily interactions with one another and with our readers — in how we treat other people. She defined our corporate culture — aka The Observer Way. It probably should just be called The Lisa Way.

I’m forever grateful that I landed at this company, with Lisa and Matt, when I came out of college. I doubt I’d still be in the news business if I had gone anywhere else. They always taught us to do things the right way and for the right reasons. And now, we have the obligation and privilege of teaching those same lessons to the generations of OMGers to come. 

Marty Fugate

Sarasota Observer, Longboat Observer arts and entertainment contributor

If you write for publication, your first reader is your editor. If you’re an editor, your first reader was your publisher. In my stint as the Observer’s A&E editor in the 2000s, Lisa Walsh had the final review. She was always very encouraging. She appreciated my obscure references and my brainy sense of humor. Lisa got my jokes, and not everybody did. But she also gave me serious advice. At the time, I was known for abstract think pieces revolving around big ideas. That was my wheelhouse, and I was good at it — and still am. Lisa never squashed that side of my writing. But she encouraged me to stretch my creative muscles on human-interest stories. I wasn’t particularly good at that. It was sort of asking a runner to try weight lifting. Thanks to Lisa, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone. As a result, I expanded my abilities as a writer — and made human-interest stories part of my wheelhouse, too. Lisa made me better at what I do — and she also made my job a lot of fun. I will miss her.

Robin Hartill

Managing editor Longboat and Sarasota Observer, 2006-2016; currently self-employed financial writer and editor

I got hired as a reporter for the Sarasota Observer while Lisa was out of town. It was my first job out of college. I got lucky that Lisa wasn’t in town because I’m pretty sure if she’d interviewed me, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.

Robin Hartill

The first time I met Lisa, she asked me the standard questions, like where I went to school and how the job was going. I said, “What do you do here?” not knowing I was talking to the owner of the paper.

Lisa should have fired me a thousand times over in my first year. She had really high standards as an editor. 

Meanwhile, I constantly misspelled names, blew deadlines and used passive voice. I learned so much from Lisa because she was a super eagle-eyed editor. She would edit stories once they were laid out on the page and make her edits with a pen. 

I was always proud when I would get my story back with no edits, because there were plenty of times I’d see the page covered in red ink from Lisa’s pen. 

Because Lisa had such high standards, it was always the best feeling to get kudos from her. She truly made me a better writer and editor. To this day, I shudder and think: “What would Lisa Walsh say?” whenever I see a dangling modifier.

I thought Lisa was intimidating at first, kind of like Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” She always wore a perfectly pressed A-line skirt and blazer. Her hair and makeup were always flawless. 

It took a while for me to see that Lisa was a super warm and funny person. She had a big, booming laugh that would echo through the office. I would always laugh just hearing her laugh, even if I had no idea what she was laughing about.

Matt Walsh, Lisa Walsh, Kurt Schultheis, Robin Hartill and Kat Wingert in February 2016

A lot of reporters liked to gather after work to share a pitcher or two of cheap beer at the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge. One time, we got Lisa to join us. I think it was the only time we ever saw anyone order white wine at the Moose.

She loved her Diet Coke and kept a Diet Coke pillow on her desk chair. You could always count on hearing the sound of Lisa cracking open her Diet Coke on deadline. 

Maybe those Diet Cokes gave Lisa the energy for all the things she did. In addition to running multiple newspapers, she served on countless boards and committees and attended practically every event to show her support for community organizations.

Yet even with all her business and community obligations, Lisa never missed anything that her three kids were involved with. Her family always came first no matter what.

Jessica Luck

Former deputy executive editor at Observer Media Group; Observer Media Group employee from 2006-2015; currently editor and director of media relations for Bridgewater College

Lisa Walsh and her family built more than just a media organization – they built a home.

Jessica Luck

Lisa was not only our editor and boss but the surrogate mother of the gaggle of young reporters who worked at Observer newspapers fresh out of college. She taught us not only how to be good reporters (and the importance of a well-placed comma); she taught us how to be good citizens of the world by leading by example.

As with any family, Lisa gave us enough of a safety net that we could be bold and try new things without worrying about the fear of failing. And some of those misses — which would make her howl with laughter as tears streamed down her face — have become the stories of legend. 

Lisa was sharp, and you learned quickly that you couldn’t get away with anything. What she was looking for was not perfection, but a willingness to keep trying and to learn from our mistakes. 

Whenever you read your story after Lisa’s edits, you always had the same thought: “Wow, she made that better.” She knew the subtle art of editing and how to find just the right word to express what you meant while allowing you to retain your voice as a writer. 

She allowed us to be individuals as we found our footing in the newsroom and in the larger world around us. That gift was not lost on us, then or now.

Under her tutelage, she encouraged us to pursue our passions, whether it was writing about the vibrant arts scene in the Sarasota area, starting a new health publication or learning how to lead and manage our own staffs of young reporters. 

Some of us have gone on to pursue our passions elsewhere, some in the media industry and some not. And others have stayed at The Observer Media Group for their entire careers — a testament to Lisa, Matt and Emily’s people-focused approach to their business. 

But no matter where we’ve landed, Lisa undoubtedly has played a role in our getting there.

Some of the lessons I learned from Lisa: how to be kind but fair; how to push people to get the very best from them and help them realize potential they didn’t know they had; and how not only to build a community but be an integral part of one. 

Lisa Walsh has been the North Star of so many people’s lives, and one comfort we all have is that her guidance and wisdom will continue to shine just as brilliantly as we continue to move through the world and leave our own marks (with a red pen, of course!).

Jill Raleigh

Observer Media Group advertising director 

When I joined the Observer in 2000 there were only about 15 employees. I remember being warmly welcomed by Matt and Lisa and immediately felt like I was part of a family. A first for me in business. They always told us they named their chickens (us).

That’s easier to do when we were small and mighty, but as we grew, they continued to name their chickens. I don't know anyone who worked with Lisa who didn't feel her love for them. Everyone became part of the family.

Lisa Walsh (center) with Jill Raleigh (back center)

I was always struck by Lisa's style and grace. She set the bar high with her sense of fashion, always dressed to the nines, often wearing pearls. She inspired me to step up my game.

Matt and Lisa were incredible partners in life and business. And inspiring. Their passion for producing local news, their commitment to excellence and their mantra of "do the right thing for the right reasons" was affirmed daily. 

Lisa had an advertising degree and the advertising department leaned on her often — calling in help for creative headlines or copy for an advertiser. We could always count on her to come through with something sharp and clever.

As serious as they were about business, no one could tear up a dance floor like Lisa and Matt. Every party found them boogying down to all the best tunes, livening up the dance floor.

Lisa's biggest impact on me was witnessing her generous and giving heart. She encouraged us to get involved in the community and support nonprofits through volunteer work, donations or serving on committees or boards. I'm especially grateful to her for the connections with the Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC), an organization she knew was near to my heart. 

Because of her, I was able to serve as a board member of SPARCC for nine years — five of those with Lisa. 

The example she set in business and in life was life-changing. The example she set during her health challenges the past few years was incredible to see. Always smiling, always the best dressed in the room, always showing her love for everyone around her.

Kurt Schultheis

Former city editor at Longboat Observer and Sarasota Observer; Observer Media Group employee from 2006-2016; currently media relations and content manager for Jaymie Scotto & Associates 

I stepped into Lisa Walsh's Longboat Observer office in 2006 as a young daily newspaper reporter who knew nothing about the deadlines and nuances of the weekly newspaper business.

Kurt Schultheis

I was nervous and apprehensive of this woman standing before me, dressed to the nines in her skirt, blazer and signature pearls. She put me at ease, though, with her warm smile and filled me in on the ins and outs of Longboat Key.

The best day to work at the Longboat Observer was deadline day for the April Fool's edition. I would sit at my desk, watch Managing Editor Jessica Luck walk the April Fool's edition pages back to Lisa’s second-floor office and wait for the Diet Coke to crack open. 

Then came the litmus test. 

Silence was a sign that a re-write was coming but nine times out of 10, we knew we hit the mark when we could hear Lisa laughing down the hall at our made-up fun. 

Whether it was in the office or at the Fish Fry with a glass of wine in her hand telling old Longboat Observer stories, Lisa's laughter was the best. 

One of my favorite out-of-the-office memories is when my co-workers and I were headed to the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge for a pitcher of beer to celebrate my upcoming destination wedding in Las Vegas. The highlight was discovering Lisa took time out of her busy schedule to come to the Moose Lodge with us. 

As you can imagine, she was the best-dressed woman in the dark and dingy bar, smiling apprehensively as she glanced at an old paper menu and hesitantly asked the waitress, "Do you serve white wine?" They found her some wine. It meant the world that she would come to celebrate with us. 

My last day at the Observer Media Group was a tough one. 

I traveled to downtown Sarasota to say my farewells. Emily Walsh gave me a hug and told me that I had to stop at the Walshes’ house and say goodbye to Lisa. 

I stopped at the house, and she gave me a big hug, thanked me for everything and told me she knew I was making a career move that was best for my family and that family always came first. 

Lisa was always a mother first to both her family and her Observer family. I will never forget her laughter and kindness. 

Kat Wingert

Observer Media Group executive editor and chief operating officer

I first met Lisa Walsh as a student three weeks before graduating from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. She and an Observer designer came to interview students on campus. I saw the signs that the Longboat Observer was interviewing; I needed a job, so I signed up. 

Although petite in stature, Lisa had a presence. She was put together and polished, yet personable, warm and funny. I left the interview knowing I had the job. A day later, she called me and I accepted an offer to be a community reporter for the Longboat Observer.

I didn’t even know where Longboat Key was. 

But I knew it sounded like a great place, with a great paper where I would actually get to write, not just fetch coffee.

After working my way up from reporter to community editor to managing editor, I left for another opportunity, as is typical for most young reporters. But four years later, I returned to the Observer, and the best newspaper family I’ve ever known.

About 10 years ago, I was chosen to be her successor. To me, I was being asked to fill the biggest size 6 shoes on earth.

If you’ve ever had the luck of taking over for an icon, then you know that comparisons can be tricky things. They can be downright disastrous if the person who is retiring feeds them with any doubt.

More than 10 years later, I never heard a word of criticism or disappointment from Lisa. At first, I tried to involve her — I didn’t want her to feel like she was not welcome. She reassured me she was happy to have the next generation lead and make the decisions. 

She had faith, and trust, and told me to go do it, and be great. 

I’m sure I have and will do things she would disagree with. But I also know that I always had — and always will have — her blessing in doing so. Because Lisa always saw and enjoyed people for who they were. 

Lisa knew that mistakes are part of learning. She knew that no one’s perfect, and you need to embrace people for their gifts and work on smoothing their edges. 

She found charm in the slightly obnoxious reporter who irritated everyone else. She liked the quirky designer who would sometimes fly into passionate diatribes on politics or any other thing that set her off in the middle of deadline. She looked for the things people could contribute, not their flaws. 

Except when it came to the dress code. That was non-negotiable. Even near the end, when she could hardly do anything without help, she always had to have her hair styled, her makeup done and her outfit coordinated in the latest fashion. Period. 

She was a master delegator, and had a knack for giving you a new project or assignment without your even realizing you had just said yes to doing more work. 

She also had an indirect communication style that needed an occasional translator to understand the vision she had — and she always had a vision. 

She and Matt always believed in doing things the right way, for the right reasons. For Lisa, that meant being an absolute stickler on grammar and punctuation, and her love of a hyphen for compound modifiers was legendary. 

She was always there for me not just as a boss, but as a person. When the first house I bought got burglarized and tools stolen, she had a Home Depot gift card for me the next day to help replace them. 

When I cried from heartbreak, she cried with me. 

When I had success, it was her success. 

When I needed a reference letter for admission to my MBA program, she wrote the most heartfelt letter I bet the University of Wyoming ever got. It concluded: “In short, you would be a fool not to admit her.” 

That was Lisa. (And I’ve since stolen that line for recommendation letters I’ve written for the best and brightest.)

I came and worked for her out of college, but the thing I learned most from her wasn’t about journalism or editing or running a newsroom. She taught me how a community works. And what it means to be part of a community. 

At first, sometimes I thought the stories she assigned me were “stupid.” Who cares about someone’s potted plants being stolen from their porch, or photos from a kids summer camp at Bayfront Recreation Center?

But then I realized: The mystery of the potted plants was a sensation with readers, who were incensed at such a theft. And those kids who attended summer camp at the rec center? I recently ran into one of them who remembers her picture being on the front page of the Longboat Observer when she was a kid. How cool is that?

I realized this is the job: People. And our job is to care about whatever they care about. That’s who we work for: our readers. 

Lisa knew people want to learn, they want to enjoy, they want to connect. That’s what we do here. And in doing so, you become part of this special community. 

Whether it’s the flowers a source sends you as a thank you after writing about his shell collection or the $50 check you can’t accept that a reader sent as a Christmas present, you’re not just covering a community: You’re part of the community. 

No one got that more than Lisa. And after I experienced that, I really never wanted to work anywhere else. 

In the last 10 years, I have used her as my guiding light for decisions on coverage a lot. If I’m ever in doubt if something is an Observer story, I think about whether it betters the community in some way. Whether it is going to be something that serves our readers. If I’m ever lost, I still to this day think about what Lisa would do, and what she would say: 

Take the high road. 

Be bold. 

Be clever. 

Aim high. 

And don’t forget to have some fun.


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