Bill Gallagher, the professor of local journalism, went to work Friday for perhaps the 7,000th time.
But the day was a special one. After more than 10,000 television news stories, today's would be his last.
The day began much like the others -- with a false start.
"Oh shoot, I forgot my note book."
"Do I have to listen to NPR?" complained his photographer Doug Tracey.
Gallagher, the warhorse. Gallagher, the newshound. Gallagher, the last of the blue-collar-rust-belt-left-wing-believers. Gallagher, the afflicter of the comfortable, the comforter of the afflicted was calling it quits after 30 years in the business – 27 of them at Channel 2.
Having retrieved his notebook and jumping back into the news truck, Gallagher noticed a glamorous young newswoman and said something appreciative of her anatomy. What he said exactly, cannot be printed as Gallagher invoked the Second Rule of TV journalism: What is said in the truck, stays in the truck.
The First Rule of TV journalism according to Gallagher is really quite simple. "Always get paid."
There is no doubt Gallagher earned his money. Consider the body of work: bloated cows, the eyeless puppy, Dr. Death, an ice-jam on the Great Lakes, an earthquake, a half-dozen presidential campaigns, the collapse and rebirth of the auto industry.
He drank Beaujolais with Pope John Paul II. He was tossed out of the bar at the famed Watergate Hotel after a boozy evening with Tennesse Williams, the playwright. He knew Mayor Coleman A.Young.
"I liked him very much," Gallagher said. "Young was a great man. Now, Kwame Kilpatrick? He is the worst kind of crook. He stole from the poor."
Galllagher was dressed in his customary blazer and loafers. He wore no wristwatch, which is also his custom. He sported a hint of facial powder. His thinning hair was swept back and tastefully treated with hair dye (shout out to Salon Legato!).
His age? Suffice it to say he has seen the Carpenters perform live.
Gallagher insisted he was not retiring because of gray roots or a sagging rump. He was retiring because of youth. He is still young enough to enjoy his life, his wife and good wine. The Mediterranean calls for him.
He did however acknowledge the liver spots amplified by the unflattering eye of high definition. "Ours is a cosmetic business," he said watching the sweep of Detroit go by through the windshield. "The news babes look great. But I look like chopped liver."
"Good chopped liver," Tracey piped in.
"Thank you," Gallagher replied with real humility.
Gallagher's last piece was one of his choosing. A good story about a group of Detroit students preparing for a tour of Ivy League colleges. Arriving at University Prep Science and Math High school along the riverfront, Gallagher launched into the virtues of quasi-public-private educational partnerships and the wonderful architecture.
"I never knew what the heck I wanted to do and still don't," he told an assembled group of students. "The great thing about being a reporter is you get a great sampling of life. You get to see how other people live. And that's one of the greatest things there is."
He did his interviews and then he and Tracey drove over to Belle Isle so Gallagher could deliver his last lines to the city he loves.
He prepared himself meticulously: a daub of white eyeliner followed by a darker application. A slathering of Revlon Age Defying 15 Early Tan base.
"You never want them to see you shine," he said, checking himself in the rear view mirror.
Gallagher then revealed his deepest secret – perhaps the greatest reason he remained at the top of the journalism game for more than a quarter-century.
"Cherry Chapstick applied to the teeth." He demonstrated his technique. "See? It makes them glisten."
And then, struggling to be heard over a gaggle of barking geese, Gallagher delivered this in one take:
"These students and many like them are the best hope for this often troubled but always exciting city. We should nurture them. This is my last story. I am retiring after 27 years. I cherish you, the people, and your wonderful stories. For the final time. In Detroit. Bill Gallagher. Fox 2 News."
KDFW FOX 4
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