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A Life: M. Dickey Drysdale – 1944-2021; ‘The most interesting man’

  • Dick Drysdale, left, former owner of The Herald of Randolph, left, talks with his successor Tim Calabro about coordinating delivery drivers on press day, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. Calabro, a photographer who began working at the paper in 2000, purchased The Herald from Drysdale in June. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • After 43 years at the Herald of Randolph, M. Dickey Drysdale handed over ownership of the newspaper to Tim Calabro, of Randolph, Vt., in 2015. Drysdale's father John Drysdale owned the paper before him from 1945 to 1971. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

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    Dick Drysdale, former owner of The Herald of Randolph, searches for phone number in his address book at the weekly paper's office in Randolph, Vt., Wednesday, July 8, 2015. After 43 years running the publication, Drysdale has cut down to between two and three days a week, reporting and doing "odd jobs" in the office. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Dickey Drysdale with his sister Isobel in a circa 1949 photograph. (Family photograph)

  • Dick Drysdale, the new editor of the Herald of Randolph, in a circa 1972 photograph at his rolltop desk in Randolph, Vt. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2021 9:47:34 PM
Modified: 5/9/2021 10:00:04 PM

RANDOLPH — It was evident when he was young that Butch Drysdale — National Merit Scholar, capable of playing Rachmaninoff on the piano, debate team member, accepted at Harvard — was going to go far and do great things in life.

It just wasn’t foreseen that the 1962 Braintree-Randolph Union High School graduate would go far and do great things by staying where he was.

Dick Drysdale — he dropped “Butch” in favor of “Dick” or “Dickey” when he got to college — who owned and edited The Herald of Randolph weekly newspaper from 1971 to 2015, died April 28 at his home on Labounty Road in Randolph, the same 1850s farmhouse in which he and his sisters grew up.

Beset by medical problems in his last years, Drysdale, 76, died from renal failure, said his wife, Marjorie Drysdale.

“He really was the most interesting man I ever met,” said Marjorie Drysdale, who married Dick in 1975. “And he was the most interesting because he was the most interested in everything and everyone.”

Indeed, if there is such a thing as being to newspapering and journalism born, then it was Dick Drysdale, attest a lifetime of colleagues, friends and family who Drysdale remained close with during five decades of his adult life, all but nine years of them lived, working and served in Randolph.

Insatiably curious, naturally inquisitive, steady, open, fair, supportive and with a prankish sense of humor, he possessed the qualities that made him loved by generations of reporters who he hired and trained and respected by the community of 16 towns in the White River Valley his newspaper covered.

Both Drysdales, father John and son Dick, “kept me on my toes, as rightly they should have,” recalled Bert Moffatt, who had multiple stints as Randolph’s town manager during the 1960s and later when the younger Drysdale ran the newspaper.

“Anything we could propose, whether it was public housing or a major community improvement, they’d look at with a jaundiced eye. We’d get their support if they thought it was in the town’s best interest,” Moffatt said.

Most grateful of all, “there was no sensationalizing,” he remembered.

Drysdale was one of the most decorated journalists in Vermont, winning a sheaf of awards during the more than 45 years he chronicled life in the White River Valley and led a staff that faithfully covered the great and small goings-on that account for life in the villages and hamlets that often seem to exist at a speed and time of a bygone era.

The Vermont Press Association at various times singled out for distinction Drysdale’s journalism in news writing, sports writing, editorial reporting and music criticism. He won the Five Golden Dozen Award from the International Society of Weekly News Editors, an award that honors a collection of the 12 best editorials in a year, five separate times, including a consecutive four-year streak in the early 1990s.

Like his father, he was inducted into the New England Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 2015, the year he sold The Herald to long-time staffer Tim Calabro (the paper is now known as The White River Valley Herald).

Newspaper family

There was probably little doubt that Drysdale would choose to become — the term seems antiquated now in the eras of digital news and gender neutrality — a newspaperman. Ink was in his blood.

Drysdale’s maternal grandfather Maurice W. Dickey, an 1899 Dartmouth College graduate, was editor of the Springfield (Mass.) Union newspaper (Drysdale’s nickname, Dick, is derived from Dickey, his mother’s family name) and his father, John Drysdale, a graduate of Brown University who worked at The Union and Dick Drysdale’s first newspaper job out of college was as a reporter for the Springfield paper, now named The Republican.

There was an interregnum when Drysdale entertained notions other than journalism, however. Within days of graduation he was headed off for training in the Peace Corps. but then was sidelined with a kidney condition. He pivoted to family tradition and after three years on the staff of the Union, he enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating with a master’s in public administration in 1971.

Drysdale had majored in government at Harvard and he was interested in “model cities and urban development,” said Marjorie Drysdale, which was a key component of the Johnson Administration’s Great Society urban renewal agenda.

But then two events happened that steered Drysdale back to Randolph: Richard Nixon, first elected in 1968, was seen as a threat to Johnson’s Great Society programs and, shortly after he graduated from Pitt, “his father called and said ” ‘I’m done. I’m going to sell the Herald. Do you want it now?’ ” Marjorie Drysdale said.

Although the country had just passed through the turbulent years of the Vietnam War and young adults everywhere were reassessing following in their parent’s footsteps, heading back to a small town near the middle of Vermont — the last stretch of Interstate 89 between Montpelier and Bethel had only opened a year earlier — Drysdale’s friends were not surprised he heeded his father’s call.

“We always knew Dickey was going to go back to the paper,” said John Gamel, a Louisville, Ky., ophthalmologist who was Drysdale’s roommate for two years in college and had been a guest of close-knit Drysdale clan at their home dubbed “The Croft” in Randolph and witnessed the relationship between his friend and his father.

“I’m pretty sure that was pro forma. What else would you do?” Gamel said.

Editor and publisher

Drysdale was more about preserving and building upon his father’s legacy at the Herald than radically bringing sweeping changes to the newspaper. In the early 1970s the newspaper was still printed at its 19th century offices on Pleasant Street in the heart of Randolph. Reporters would clip their typewritten stories to a clothesline which would then be pulled upstairs to the second floor where the typesetters would get them ready for print.

With his rolltop desk, sporting first a Victorian gentleman’s mustache which later evolved into a bushy goatee beard and often wearing a tweed jacket, Drysdale projected himself like a Norman Rockwell version of a country newspaper editor.

But the folksy exterior masked the dual role he played at the newspaper.

As owner, Drysdale was also the publisher. As publisher, that meant dealing with advertisers. Normally, at newspapers, there is a wall between the business side and editorial side, but at a small newspaper like the Herald, those jobs are often handled by the same person on the top.

By nearly all accounts, Drysdale preferred the news side to the business side. But to both he brought a patient, low-key style that was his trademark, according to colleagues.

When Three Bean Cafe, a popular eatery in Randolph a couple doors away from the Herald offices where reporters would often conduct interviews was struggling to pay its advertising bill, Drysdale cut a “make good” deal: the cafe would make pizza free for the newspaper staff and deliver it every Wednesday — deadline day — for two years.

“That was very nice,” said Shari Drago Dutton, the former owner of the cafe, where Drysdale often ate lunch and was known to love Dutton’s homemade cookies. “I didn’t have to leave with that heavy burden (of the unpaid advertising bill) on my shoulders.”

Tight with a dollar

A Yankee at heart with Scottish heritage, Drysdale was perhaps by nature fiscally conservative. The cautiousness to spend money also came up at the Vermont Press Association, where Drysdale was treasurer for 25 years, when he and some other members objected to forming a “First Amendment fund” to help Vermont newspapers when sued.

Only a year later the Herald itself got sued for violation of privacy by a school parent irate over the Herald reporting the name of her son who was barred from performing in a school play because of inadequate grades, according to Mike Donoghue, the VPA executive director.

The suit was eventually tossed out of court, but the irony that the Herald would have been the first newspaper to benefit from the fund was not lost on Drysdale and helped sway him to change his mind when the VPA later formed the fund.

“He came around to support it and said, ‘yeah, it would have helped,” Donoghue related.

Unpretentious and unfailingly courteous, “you could tell when Dick was talking with a farmer that he was never talking down,” said Bob Eddy, a longtime photographer at the weekly. “He had a profound respect for the lives people lived here in these towns.”

Eye for talent

Nor, despite coming from a family steeped in Ivy League colleges and a legacy in the newspaper business, did Drysdale care about a prospective employee’s background when hiring.

Marjorie Ryerson, who went on to serve on both Randolph’s Selectboard and as a representative in the Vermont House, was a struggling single mother in Vermont when Drysdale, after reading stories she wrote for Vermont Life, called her out of the blue in 1980 with a job offer.

“Dick got a hold of me and said I’d like to hire you. Come talk to me,” said Ryerson, who had earned a degree in poetry from the University of Iowa’s prestigious writing program and “my husband had left. I was raising kids alone and bewildered.”

“I had never taken a journalism class but he said ‘you know how to write.’ He was an incredible teacher. We’d sit in his office and he’d talk about the best approach for getting a story done.”

Veteran Herald reporter Sandy Vondrasek remembers Drysdale’s same careful mentoring.

Vondrasek, now retired, had no journalism experience when she wrote Drysdale a letter in 1983 detailing why she loved reading the journalism in the Herald. At the time, she was on her “third level” interview for a computer-related job at National Life Group in Montpelier.

Drysdale took her on — and took the time to school Vondrasek in reporting and writing.

“As a new reporter I’d come in with my notes from the school board meeting from the prior night and sit down with him and run down what’s going on,” Vondrasek said. Drysdale would pick out something from her notes and say ” ‘well, you should start with that in the story’ or ‘break it into two stories, one for page one, one for another.

From Drysdale, Vondrasek said she learned an invaluable lesson in one of the biggest challenges when it comes to being an Upper Valley journalist.

“You don’t cover a three-hour selectboard meeting in one story,” she said, “You break it into three stories.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com. 




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