Russ Scott, former managing editor of The Dispatch, died Saturday at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He was 69 years old.
Mr. Scott, of East Moline, was managing editor for 25 years before retiring from The Dispatch in 2007. He prided himself on being down to earth and approachable. In a December 2007 story on his retirement, he said the best part of the job was the people, including the readers.
"I treated every reader like I would want to be treated if I called a business," he said. "In the end, talking to the readers and being able to help them might be the most satisfying."
Gerald J. Taylor, publisher of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, said Mr. Scott's "soft, unassuming style enabled him to calm the most irate reader." This ability was legendary among his co-workers."
"Russ could convince even the angriest subscriber that eliminating their favorite comic strip was in their best interest," said former Dispatch/Argus copy chief Gordon Nelson.
Foremost, "Russ Scott was a newspaperman," said Mr. Taylor. "Russ also was a skilled editor, a hard-nosed reporter, a compassionate manager and a uniquely qualified mentor."
Mr. Scott said his aim never was to manage by intimidation, but rather to nurture and help employees grow. "I'd rather be an unassuming hillbilly than a sophisticated bully," he said.
"His unfailing news judgment and determination to get the story, get it first and get it accurately enabled him to lead his newsroom staff to produce untold thousands of newspaper editions over a four-decade career," said Mr. Taylor. "We were very lucky to have him in our newspaper family for so long."
Mr. Scott grew up in Huntington, W.Va., and graduated from Marshall University in 1967. He planned to become a mechanical engineer when he enrolled at Marshall in 1961. "I aced high school and wanted to get into something that made a lot of money," he said in 2007. But within a couple of years he decided he didn't like math and chemistry, so he took an aptitude test that indicated he was better suited for three or four other fields, including journalism.
"It was like a light bulb went off," he said. "Suddenly, it all made sense."
He returned to Marshall as a journalism major and worked on the university paper, The Parthenon. With one semester left before graduation, he was recommended for a reporting job at Huntington's newspaper, The Herald-Dispatch. He started at the paper in September 1966 while finishing his last semester of college and continuing his part-time job at the Midway Drive-in, a hot dog stand.
He started as a police reporter -- always his favorite beat -- and became regional editor in 1972. By 1977, he had moved up the ranks from city editor to metro editor to assistant managing editor. He was offered a job with the group putting together the prototype for a new national newspaper called USA Today, but he turned it down because of family obligations.
His goal was to become a managing editor by the time he was 40. When he learned The Daily Dispatch in Moline was seeking a managing editor, he applied. It was the first time he had heard of Moline, the first time he had had to write a resume and the first time he had flown on an airplane.
Mr. Scott took over as The Dispatch managing editor on April 5, 1982, just five weeks shy of his 39th birthday.
He said his journalism career was "bookended" by the 1970 airplane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team, coaching staff and some alumni. As lead reporter covering the crash for the Herald-Dispatch, Mr. Scott said the story helped kick off his career. Attending, and writing about, the Huntington premiere of "We Are Marshall" -- a movie about the plane crash made 36 years later -- helped put a finishing touch on his career.
Mr. Scott remembered how the crash devastated the Huntington community, and he recalled the dead silence in the newsroom when it was confirmed the Marshall plane had gone down. Then everyone jumped into action to get the story covered. "It was an amazing experience for a journalist," he said.
The Marshall crash wasn't the first story Russ covered that was turned into a movie. He also reported on the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, W.Va., which killed 46 people. The incident was chronicled in the 2002 Richard Gere movie, "The Mothman Prophecies."
After he retired, Mr. Scott remained in the Quad-Cities and focused on his Lucky Dog poker column, which started in 2005 and became nationally syndicated.
John Riches, a spokesman for Alcoa, spent many hours on the golf course with Mr. Scott, an avid golfer. "He was just an all-around good guy," said Mr. Riches. "He was a tough but fair journalist. He was the textbook example of the cigarette-smoking newspaper editor."
Funeral arrangements for Mr. Scott are pending.
Co-news editor Jackie Chesser was hired by Russ Scott in May 1984.
Words about Russ
"I met him right after he first came to town from West Virginia, and we developed a friendship through Noon Kiwanis. He was a person that looked beyond where other people looked. He asked questions and delved further. He really got to know people, your likes, your dislikes, and he would remember them. He cared about people. He was a good man. I can't ever remember him going after anybody, badmouthing them. He saw the good in people. He didn't participate in running people down. He built them up. If Russ said it, I believed it. Our friendship over the years was a very close one." -- Byrd Krumbholz, Davenport, retired president of First Federal Savings & Loan
"As managing editor at The Dispatch, he had a very calming influence during his leadership years, dealing with many people in and out of the workplace. Anyone who met Russ and got to know him could not help but think he was your friend for life. Russ will be missed by the many people for many reasons." -- Former Dispatch/Argus director of photography Terry Herbig
"We didn’t always agree, but he always listened to you and made you feel like you mattered. Not many people know this, but years ago, Russ talked me out of leaving The Dispatch for another opportunity. We must have been in his office until midnight talking. He didn’t convince me to stay because it was better for The Dispatch, but because he knew it was better for me and my family to stay. He couldn't have been more right, and for that, I will always be grateful." -- Todd Mizener, Dispatch/Argus director of photography
"When I was a kid my mom called me Johnny. There have only been a couple of people who have done that in the last two decades, and Russ was one of them. He was just an all-around good guy. He was a tough but fair journalist. He was the textbook example of the cigarette-smoking newspaper editor. I was lucky to have known him and over the years I spent many hours on the golf course with him. I am sad he was taken from us way too soon, but I will remember the good times we shared, and if there is a golf course in heaven, I hope he is hitting them straight. -- John Riches, a spokesman for Alcoa
"Even though Russ Scott was in charge of the newsroom at The Dispatch, he seldom felt like my boss; rather he was my best friend. But then, he was everyone's best friend! At the end of a 45-minute -- minimum -- phone conversation, Russ could convince even the angriest subscriber that eliminating their favorite comic strip was in their best interest. Yet I never saw him angry himself, well maybe once (probably after his Cincinnati Reds lost one to the Cubs). Russ never forgot his West Virginia roots -- he couldn't since we barraged him with hillbilly humor that he usually responded to with a huge smile and that drawl though his bearded jaw. One of my most prized possessions is the 'We Are Marshall' necktie he gave me when that movie came out about his alma mater in Huntington. Or maybe it is the foot-tall hourglass egg-timer or the crystal TicTacToe set in its mirrored case, a couple of Russ' unique Christmas gifts to 'Gordy' -- he was the only one who could get away with calling me that. I consider myself a 'Lucky Dog' to have worked with Russ during his entire tenure at The Dispatch. But I'm even luckier to count him as a friend. -- Former Dispatch/Argus copy chief Gordon Nelson
"For more than two decades Russ and I functioned as a two-headed monster -- he as managing editor of The Dispatch and I at The Argus -- with both us managing a combined news staff. That took a lot of coordination and understanding and yet he was so easy to work with that we made it work. Although customer service is always stressed at our company, no one was better at talking with readers than Russ. Our jobs cause us to spend a lot of time listening to reader concerns and feedback, but I swear Russ' strategy was to talk them into submission." -- Roger Ruthhart, Dispatch/Argus managing editor
"As managing editor, Russ had a way about him that brought out the best in you. You found out very soon that his demeanor, in his own words -- 'Oh, I’m just an ol’ West Virginia hillbilly' – was a façade to what he really was: intelligent, driven, possessing a wonderful personality and a marvelous gift of gab. Back in the 1980s, he formed a golf league for Dispatch employees and tried to recruit participants from all departments, not just the newsroom. His motto – 'The more, the merrier.' He would get a foursome or two together for annual trips to Eagle Ridge in Galena. That meant getting up at 3 a.m. so we could tee off at 6 a.m., when the course opened. And sometimes we’d play 18 holes, have lunch and play another 18. He also got together with some of his friends for golfing excursions out East. During a visit to the Quad-Cities earlier this spring, I was delighted when Terry and Donna Herbig invited Russ to join us for lunch. Russ was in his usual good spirits, talking about golf, his family, the Cincinnati Reds (his favorite baseball team), his new car and a host of other things. He also, as usual, was interested in my life -- how my retirement was going, my family and, in general, my current endeavors. That was Russ. He always had a way making you feel special. -- Former Dispatch city editor Tom Bergstrand of Leominster, Mass.
"Russ was a terrific poker player and writer, a good boss and a great friend. He was arguably the best seven-card stud player in Illinois and Iowa, and he inarguably was a consummate gentleman, whether that was across a poker table, a news desk or standing on the first tee. The state of Illinois had better retire the license plate SEVNCRD or I am moving to Iowa." -- Craig DeVrieze, a former Dispatch/Argus and Quad-City Times sports reporter