Thomas J. Dolan, 1942 -2013. His admission of struggle changed my life

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Tom Dolan died this week. For the last 30 years, readers of the Buffalo News knew him as Thomas J. Dolan, News Staff Reporter.

I worked side-by-side with Tom a lot during the contentious Satish Mohan years as Amherst Supervisor.

Amherst was Tom’s regular beat for the News, and it was becoming mine for WBEN, as every meeting was seemingly an event.

Board members yelling at one another, threatening physical violence upon one another during meetings.

“Mr. Supervisor, someone had better shut their mouth or I’ll shut it for them.”

In a back office, I once saw a board member boiling to a point where it looked line he was inches away from a slugging another, only to see those two embarrassed apart by yet another board member. It didn’t get reported because it was about the tenth most interesting thing that happened that night in the zoo that was the Amherst Town Council for a few years.

Tom was unfazed by all that. He kept all his laptop components in separate ziplock bags. He showed up a few minutes before the meeting started, pulled his mouse and power adapter out of their baggies, and started to listen and write.

He’d get it all in the paper, stripped of nonsense, and without resorting to the wild sound bites and noisiness that came with reporting these meetings in the electronic media. He got it all in, like a pro, put on his tweed cap and went home.

It was easy to be overcome by the emotion of those meetings. Of course, it was only because of the emotion that I and other radio and TV reporters were there. Tom would get the taste of emotion, but more importantly, the facts of the meeting. The actual operation of government. The real news, not just the stuff of prurient interest.

He had a quiet passion that burned slowly, but intensely. He talked about the best kind of dogs, his beautiful Parkside home, the rewards of being divorced- but remarrying in the Catholic Church after years of work with to make it happen the right way.

He also talked about being at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, a watershed moment for American politics, activism, and freedom.

He was also a neighbor, living a few blocks away in Parkside. It was an honor to be able to tell the story of his home when he and his wife Marion were on the Parkside Tour of Homes.

I think it was sitting in his beautiful walnut-beamed dining room that he said something that stopped me in my tracks and really helped change my life.

After chatting about his home’s history, what he’d done to improve it, his favorite features and the like, I made a joke about how I was going to take five minutes to whip this into a story and get it in right under deadline.

“That’s the hardest thing for me to do,” he said.

What? Writing quickly? Deadlines?

“No, writing,” he said. Some of those late Amherst nights almost killed him, he said. “Writing is hard, a chore, and I don’t enjoy it.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here’s this guy, the world’s most perfect newspaper reporter. Perfect pieces. Dozens of awards, responsible for bringing to light sinking homes and parks scandals. And writing was hard for him. He had to fight through every time he sat in front of a keyboard, to the point he hated it.

Until that moment, I don’t think I thought about writing. I just did it. Fast and easy. It flowed, especially with a deadline looming. It might not be Hemingway, but I’d get it in.

I’ve thought a lot about Tom and that statement since that day.

An ability and facility with writing is a great gift I’ve always had, but it wasn’t until spending time with Tom Dolan that I realized it was a gift, and not handed out to all writers like magnetic schedules at a Bisons game.

And it wasn’t until I realized what a gift it is, to be able to write, that I could decide that is what I had to do with the rest of my life. To put that wonderful gift to good use.

The last time I saw Tom, he really wasn’t sure who I was. Ravages of Parkinson’s.

I told him about some of which I’ve written here, but I think the kind and warm tone may have given as much comfort as the actual words themselves.

We weren’t great friends, just acquaintances and neighbors who got along well and liked to chat.

It’s amazing the impact one can have on another life so accidentally. Here’s to the late Tom Dolan.

Thanks Tom.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.