July 26, 2014

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Arnold Miller: A tribute to a ‘softie with a heart of gold’

Patti Ewald, Special to The Chronicle-Telegram

Then-Chronicle-Telegram managing editor Patti Ewald and Arnold Miller, managing editor from 1972-97, in The Chronicle’s newsroom Aug 5, 2008.

I was Arnold Miller’s right-hand man.

It wasn’t an honor bestowed upon me in title or monetary compensation.

It was who I was by default; my desk just happened to be immediately outside his office door, which was to his right.

I was the first person he saw when he looked into the newsroom to ask a question or, ahem, convey a message.

I could tell by the look on his face if I could intervene and head off impending doom or I just had to let Arnold take his course.

And yell. Across the room. A bellow that almost gave me a heart attack and once felled a reporter who was famous for rubbing Arnold the wrong way.

I’m pretty sure Arnold was questioning the reporter’s (lack of) intelligence when all of a sudden we heard a crash! boom! bang! only to look over and see the reporter lying on the floor. Tipped over backward in his chair. The paramedics had to come.

“Like I always tell you, ‘You can’t teach people to be smart,’ ” is what Arnold probably mumbled in my direction after that incident. He said that a lot.

Arnold seemed to pride himself in the ability to size up a person (and his or her intelligence) in the first 10 minutes they talked. That first impression stuck. Labeled for life.

Those of us on his good side thought he was brilliant for being such a remarkable judge of character. And, that made us work even harder to win his praise.

Those who started off on his bad side? It wasn’t pretty.

And then he was gone.

Even though Arnold retired, his heart never left the newspaper. He was a Newspaper Man. He talked about The Chronicle-Telegram like he still worked there. I don’t think a day went by that he didn’t regret his decision to leave.

But now it was time to get to know the other Arnold — the softie with a heart of gold we always suspected was under the tough-guy veneer.

If I didn’t call, he would call me; he came to my older son’s wedding in Colorado; he came to holiday parties; he came to visit me in Florida several times; he sent me notes and newspaper clippings he thought I’d be interested in.

In other words, he truly, genuinely cared about me.

I just hope he knows how much I cared about him, too.

Patti Ewald, a longtime Chronicle staffer, now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she works for the Tampa Bay Times. You can reach her at pewald@tampabay.com.