A few weeks after I arrived here to become editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, I met with a guy who was running a local music club and was under fire, so to speak.
During the conversation, he asked me about my background, and then asked frankly if I knew what I was doing. He told me that Gloucester was a city that was tough on “outsiders.” This city, he said, would beat me down to the point where it would rip the heart and soul right out of me.
Twelve years later, I can tell you I have found just the opposite. Having retired from the Times last week, I can tell you I believe the heart and soul of Gloucester have instead become a part of me — and a part I know will be with me forever.
Over that time I have come to love and appreciate Gloucester, Cape Ann and its people like perhaps those in no other community in which I’ve lived and worked — from my native Pittsfield to Westerly, Rhode Island, where I first became involved in covering the fishing industry as editor of The Westerly Sun nearly two decades ago.
To say that Gloucester grows on you would be an immense understatement. As an outsider, America’s Oldest Seaport and its people engulf you — in a good way.
My job here at the Times — as editor, and then, when I sought and got the chance to go back on journalism’s front lines as Gloucester issues reporter — was always to let you know what was happening in and around your community. And that hasn’t always been pretty.
Within months of my landing here in January 2008, we broke a story about a sudden flareup in 18 teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School — one that became twisted in the national media into reports of a supposed “pregnancy pact” among the girls, which was never confirmed. That wasn’t pretty, but was information that all of us felt you needed to know.
That was a big story, and there have been many others.
I have always been especially proud of the work the late Richard Gaines and more recently Sean Horgan have done — nationally as well as locally — on the plight of Gloucester’s and New England’s fishing industry and its fight for survival in the face of heavy-handed federal regulatory actions.
And while each loss and story is painful, I’ve been proud to be part of the work that we — and our sister papers in Community Newspaper Holdings LLC — have always done in bringing home the severity of the opioid epidemic, which continues to claim far too many lives here and elsewhere each year.
We’ve been front and center in covering tragedies — like the 2009 sinking of the F/V Patriot, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s delayed response to it. There was the tragic disappearance and 2012 loss of little Caleigh Harrison from Rockport’s Long Beach. And I’ve been on the front lines of various calamities, like Gloucester’s ouster of former police Chief Leonard Campanello — through a series of issues and allegations that have never been thoroughly or fully resolved.
Not all of those stories have made the city look good, so to speak. Yet the stories I’ll also remember are the ones that showed Gloucester’s heart and soul rising from cases such as those.
It showed up in the outpouring of support for the Russo and Orlando families in the aftermath of the Patriot tragedy. It showed up in a gut-wrenching memorial in the shadow of the Fishermen’s Memorial for Caleigh Harrison. And it has especially shown up in the city’s coming to grips with opioid addiction through both the launch of a now-national project like the Police Department’s Angel Program, and through a powerful vigil held each summer for those whose lives have been lost along the way.
Those and other stories are why I think of Gloucester as a city with an immense heart and soul, not one bent on destroying those qualities in anybody.
It’s a spirit that surfaces each year through events like St. Peter’s Fiesta and the Schooner Festival, which honors a special time in the city’s maritime history. But it also surfaces bigger and brighter than ever during times when the city and its residents need it — like when storms decimate the Magnolia Pier and spark a grass roots drive to rebuild it, and when organizations set a new food-raising record, as The Open Door did a few weeks ago in a Thanksgiving canned goods drive.
I can tell you it’s not easy for me to step away from my role in helping to provide news coverage for Gloucester and its surrounding towns. But the truth is, my ongoing battle with health issues tells me it’s time to go.
I cannot step aside, however, without thanking all of the folks who have worked with me in many capacities, both within the Times family and outside of it — from officials to sources and residents who called us with tips on the stories you’ve seen on these pages over the years.
And I especially thank all of you — our readers — who continue to support and believe in what I believe is one of the best small newspapers around.
Keep the Gloucester and Cape Ann spirit alive — I know I will.
Ray Lamont retired Dec. 1 after working as editor and then staff writer for the Times since January 2008.