Twenty-some years ago in Arkansas, when I first crossed paths with Joan Duffy, I was new to political reporting and to fatherhood. She made me better at both.
Joan died last night. Her obituary in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called her "a longtime journalist whose coverage of politics, government and other issues ranged over four states and four decades."
Duffy spent 14 years as a reporter in Arkansas. She was Little Rock bureau chief for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis for 12 of those years after a stint at the Arkansas Democrat. She covered three Arkansas governors and was a fixture on Arkansas Week, a weekly television news program...
Gov. Mike Beebe came to know Duffy when he was a state senator. 'When you met Joan during her reporting days at the Capitol, she would immediately come across as tough and aloof," he said. "However, as you got to know her, you discovered the warmth and compassion that lay beneath her gruff, professional surface. She kept us all honest as politicians, but was always someone I treasured in my life as a friend...
She joined UPI, working as an editor, reporter and correspondent in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, covering Louisiana's colorful political scene, including former Gov. Edwin Edwards, Mark Duffy said. 'Duffy was a legendary newswoman, even 30-something years ago in Baton Rouge, when we were all much younger,' said Sonny Albarado, the acting city editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who worked with her in Louisiana and in Memphis. She was tough, she was fair, she was compassionate...'
What the obit doesn't tell you is how brilliantly Joan, 61, juggled the demands of both her job and social life, years before work-life became a hyphenated balance. At the state Capitol, she was a sarcastic, opinionated in-your-face reporter who held three governors accountable while maintaining their respect. The people who Joan covered feared her -- and loved her.
An unrepentent gossip and cut-up, Joan made friends quickly and kept them for life. She was an adoring mother who scolded me (and many others) about taking work more seriously than life.
Joan had a simple theory about covering the legislature. Every story required two essential elements, no more: "Two quotes and a vote." In other words, who won the fight and what did each side say about it?
Setting aside the hyperbole, Joan's point was that anything beyond the basics was a waste of good ink -- and kept reporters away from friends and family.
To this day, when I'm on deadline, I can hear Joan growling at me: "Two quotes and a vote, Fournier. And then get your ass home."
Joan once heard a colleague call Louisiana politics "colorful" and cackled. "Corrupt is more like it," she said, then regaled us with stories. Like the time, while assigned to the Edwards administration, she famously served as deputy foreman of a grand jury investigating the governor. "Yup. I wrote the grand jury report," Joan said. "Didn't bury no damn lead, either."
My apologies, Joan, wherever you are, for burying the lead: Thank you. I miss you. I love you.
Photo courtesy of University of Arkansas at Little Rock.