He was always ready, even when I wasn’t.
Wednesday mornings columnist Richared Peña, 95, would come into the office and just as he got to my doorway he’d say: “Ready for some copy.”
In the decades since Mr. Peña joined The Star-News, the paper has shrunk considerably in both staff and heft. If there were ever copyeditors here, they have been long gone. So, Mr. Peña, being the generous man that he is with his time, came in week after week, year after year to lend another set of proofreading eyes to this paper. Must have been his military training that made him always good-to-go.
Most times I’d have something ready for him to read. Often it wasn’t the complete paper and it didn’t resemble what the final edition would be on Friday. But still, Mr. Peña was here.
Occasionally I’d be frazzled, having fallen behind, and I’d rush to get him something to review. Patiently and dutifully
Mr. Peña would look over that week’s stories and graciously promise to come back the next week while I promised to be on time the following Wednesday.
One of us was better at keeping his promise than the other.
For nearly 10 years he’d send me his column on Sunday. My favorites were annuals. One was the story of Henry, the forlorn crow (or was it a raven, Richard, and what’s the difference?) who perched on a tall tree, endlessly cawing in search of its mate. This was in the time when his wife Zula had succumbed to the cruel mind games of Alzheimer’s and he was still caring for her.
The other must-read was a Christmas time tale, the recounting of the holiday trek to downtown San Diego when he and his children would walk amidst the tall buildings and promising window displays of gifts and holiday magic.
In those columns Richard took nostalgia and longing and gave them depth and texture. He made his world real — tangible — to those who read him.
Over time Mr. Peña would begin to allude to the notion that he thought about filing his final column. It was getting harder to find motivation, he’d tell me. Sometimes, he was just too tired to find something new to say.
My response always was for him to do what was best for Richard. At 80 and then 90-plus years of age he had more than earned the right to absolve himself of deadlines and editorial responsibilities (though inside I frantically hoped he’d stick around for just one more column). Sure enough, when Wednesday rolled around:
“Ready for some copy,” he’d say.
Mr. Peña died May 3 while visiting family in Washington D.C. The father, husband, colleague and good man was five years short of 100 years old. My mind tells me that my time with Mr. Peña was grossly limited.
But my heart told me otherwise.
You may have been ready, Richard. But I’m not.