When the previous editor was fired (arrested, actually) in 2001, responsibility for putting out the Austin Weekly News fell into my lap. Not many people on the Oak Park side of Austin Boulevard know about this newspaper, but keeping it alive the last 15 years is one of the best things Wednesday Journal Inc. has done.

Still, it wasn’t easy. It was even more difficult when I took over. AWN was one of about a hundred other duties I had on my plate at the time, so I needed help.

That was when Delores McCain stepped up to the plate. A Forest Park resident and former Westsider, she worked in our classified department and filled in as receptionist. She also contributed freelance articles to AWN. In 2001, she became my go-to reporter. I had help from other freelancers, but she was the backbone. At the age of 58, the age I am now, she started a new career as a journalist.

We were born 10 years apart almost to the day. That made us Gemini twins (of different mothers of different races). I was the whitest managing editor on the West Side. She was one of the few black employees at Wednesday Journal. She always called me “Monsignor” because I was her supervisor and had been in the seminary, once upon an epoch. Delores teased me about not getting over to Austin enough and dragged my butt there for numerous events. She pried me out of my comfort zone.

In turn, she counted on me to smooth out the rough edges of her copy since she had no formal training as a journalist. But she was a natural reporter. She showed up and never shied away.

Delores, who died on Sept. 11, knew how much I counted on her, and she knew how grateful I was, but I’m not sure she knew how much I respected her. That’s part of the grief when you lose someone too soon – fixating on what you didn’t tell them.

I didn’t talk to her enough the last couple of years after she battled leukemia. I took it for granted that she was winning, and when she went into the hospital for double pneumonia this summer, I took it for granted she would beat that, too.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I hate that I never got to say goodbye, never got to tell her that she did one hell of a job for us these last 10 years and what an impact she had on the West Side, even though she probably knew it.

I know what she’d say: “Pay it forward.” And I will, but I can’t help wishing we could have one more talk.

Delores practiced what, in this business, they call “advocacy journalism.” You knew which side she was on. She wanted to right wrongs and also chronicle what was good about life in Austin. She knew this was one community that didn’t need to read an endless rehash of what was wrong with their neighborhood.

But she didn’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses, either. She knew how things worked (or didn’t) in a low-income, crime-plagued, re-segregated, over-populated, low-on-the-totem-pole portion of the city. Good-hearted people were trying very hard in very trying circumstances, and it didn’t hurt to let them know someone noticed.

I learned a lot from Delores McCain, about the West Side and about life. She probably cut me more slack than I deserved, but she also got on me when she disagreed with my editorial choices – if I had to reduce her word count or hold her story for a week, or in general if I started acting a bit too white. I never minded. I was glad she cared so much.

And she cared a lot. You could see it in her work, and the people she covered knew it, too. That’s why so many turned out for her “homegoing” service at Greater St. John Bible Church, near Division and Central, last Wednesday morning. That included most of Wednesday Journal Inc., which was only appropriate. She helped build a pretty solid bridge between Oak Park and Austin.

The best way to honor her is to keep crossing the bridge Delores built.

Here in the office, she loved pulling pranks (e.g. sending staff members scurrying to the conference room for imaginary food on April Fool’s Day). She liked to laugh and usually ended her e-mails with “lol, lol, lol.”

So it’s only fitting to end this column with lol.

Lots of love.

Join the discussion on social media!