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The Greatest Boss on Earth

This was originally published on Monday, December 21, 1998


By SUSANA BARCIELA, Editorial Board

NOT TO BRAG, but I know bosses. Really. Like many folks, I've had my full share of them - mostly bad, mediocre, and OK - during my checkered career in corporate America as well as the news world.

Then, as a business columnist, I listened to countless people dissect bosses, read and wrote reams about them. I hate to say this, but employees generally have low opinions of most - so much so that whenever I wrote about tyrant bosses, I knew that readers would love it. Who can't relate?

If you have been fortunate to have an extraordinary boss once in your career, count your blessings. I do.

Since early 1997 I've had the pleasure of working for Jim Hampton, The Herald's editor. My only regret is that I'll have worked with him only two years when he retires this month.

No, Jim didn't assign me this column. An unassuming, quiet sort, he's probably mortified that I wrote this. My performance evaluation isn't due before he leaves, either - though I wish that it were, given that he's the only boss ever to deliver an appraisal on time, and not make me write it.

It's just that, as my mom says, the truth is the truth. Truth is that Jim is a rare talent. He is that combination of technical mastery and people skills that many an organization would scour the planet for. In short, Jim is a wiz with words and an accomplished diplomat. You would be hard-pressed to find a more-decent, compassionate heart.

To top it off, he's got a wry sense of humor. I can picture him now, leaving the office on his last day. "I'm off, " Jim will say, as on any other day, "like a prom dress."

Forget that for 21 years Jim has carried the thankless task of shaping the editorial position of the local paper in South Florida, where any position supported by one resident is likely to tick off five others. Forget his dealing with grave policy issues on crises from the Mariel boatlift to Hurricane Andrew (which destroyed his own house), and handling huge egos on any given issue where politics or money intersect.

Throughout it all, Jim has kept open the door to all interest groups - poor and rich, in agreement or not with our editorial stance - respectfully treating everyone from heads of state to indicted commissioners, from community activists to first-time candidates for public office. Amid heated discussion, Jim's calm grace and class prevail.

His most sacred standard, of course, is being fair. That came through loud and clear when he first interviewed me for this job as an editorial writer. We, he explained, take pains to speak with all, particularly before criticizing them publicly. While it often would be easier to spout opinions without making such calls - believe me, I've learned - people always have reasons, valid or not, that deserve to be considered.

All in all, my colleague Joe Oglesby calculates that Jim has shepherded 25,295 editorials in his days at The Herald. Figure that Jim has written about 1,000 columns, interviewed some 5,000 visitors, and moderated countless Editorial Board discussions, where there have been countless disagreements. All this doesn't happen in a regular 9-to-5 work week. But it happens more smoothly because of his down-to-Earth grace and Kentucky quips.

So smooth, that even fussy editorial writers appreciate his constructive critiques. We call him "Samurai editor" because often the author can't tell what Jim has changed in the editorial submitted - only that it reads better. "There are no dull topics; only dull writing, " he says, and I can't argue his example.

Like any boss, of course, Jim has his idiosyncrasies. He is picky about commas. And I've learned not to make requests on Friday, the day of our heaviest workload and when he is most likely to be sleep-deprived. Of course, that's because he works late on Thursday night to ensure that our weekend pages are timely and sharp.

Thank you, Jim. I've learned much from you, both about our craft and how to treat people. Certainly I'll miss your wit, warmth, and wisdom. You never let being a boss or big-city opinion shaper rob you of your humanity.