Word came to me about 2:30 p.m. Sunday that longtime Advertiser columnist Bob Krauss had died. My first reaction was shock. Though Bob was on in years and having heart troubles, it never occurred to me that we might lose him anytime soon. He was active and vibrant and forever on the go. I quickly realized we had just lost an institution, not just at The Advertiser, but for the state and the Pacific Rim as well.
My second reaction was that we had a huge news story on our hands, and it was time to get busy. And we wouldn't just be covering the story. Other news organizations would be calling us for reaction and details. We would be part of the story.
Editors and reporters filed into an otherwise nearly empty newsroom on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and we started planning coverage.
That we would have expansive coverage of Bob Krauss was never in question. He had a great influence on many readers over his 55 years at The Advertiser, and his passing would be marked appropriately. But what is appropriate? We knew instinctively that there would be a lengthy obituary that pulled together the many elements of his life. I especially wanted his final column reprinted. It spoke about his undergoing triple-bypass surgery and how he had decided that rather than lead a sedentary life, he would risk the operation so he could stay active as long as possible.
Bob and I spoke a few days before the operation, and he recounted the same story. Ever the straight shooter, Bob was impressed that his doctor ditched the sensitive bedside manner and bluntly laid out all of the alternatives. It was up to Bob whether to have the operation — but spending the rest of his life on controlling medication would mean slowing down. We all knew Bob couldn't possibly live life that way. What motivated him was the next great story and the opportunities for learning. Resting in an armchair wasn't his style.
So I wished him the best, and we shook hands for the last time. We were so sure that he was going to make it through surgery and its after-effects that we didn't even prepare background material in the event we had to write an obituary. Bob would tough it out, and he would be back.
Our coverage, which spanned three full pages and a fourth produced by the marketing department as a memorial, was dictated by what we thought we should say about Bob's life at The Advertiser. Rarely does anyone last 55 years at one company anymore, much less write a regular column for 53 of those years. It's hard to sum up a life like Bob's in just a story or two.
We had plenty of material. We had produced a special section when he hit his 50th anniversary at The Advertiser, and we were able to take some column snippets out of that. There were many historical photos of a young Bob taking part in stunts aimed at increasing circulation and bringing us recognition. His office, a throwback to another time, had to be photographed and described, from the brass candlestick phone, to his card catalogue of Hawai'i history.
We also had his employment file. In a 1977 document, he typed out a biography that included "major crusades" ("1960, saved Ulu Mau Village" and "1963, saved Falls of Clyde" and "1971-2-3, established bikeways in Hawaii.") He listed two major awards, a 1966 Honolulu Press Club award for Vietnam coverage, and a 1963 award when he was named salesman of year by Sales and Marketing Executives of Hawaii as the "man who did most to bring Hawaii to the attention of the world."
Part showman, part salesman but always the intrepid journalist, Bob came from another era and lasted through several others while everyone else retired or moved on to something else.
In 1955, Bob Krauss was making $6,000 a year as a columnist. In a memo to bosses asking for a raise, he wrote, "I think it is safe to say I've done more than any other person to make readers in Hawaii aware of The Advertiser, to think about it and talk about it."
Then he wrote this:
"I know that when a good story comes along, such as a volcano eruption, my column takes a back seat. That's the way it should be. As a newspaperman, it makes me proud to see that nothing sells newspapers like news. However, those stories don't come along every day. ... There has to be something new, something different all the time to keep interest aroused during dull news days. That's what I'm trying to give to readers. I think I'm succeeding."
Bob succeeded until the very end. And he got his raise.