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Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Friday, August 18, 2017
June in August

Going Legend
There aren’t many people in our lives who we actually know whose lives we truly admire. Sure, there’s the celebrity who appears to have it all, or the tech millionaire whose fortune we long to have tucked away in our bank account. But rare is the case when that person — who is neither celebrity nor millionaire — shows up at your office each and every day of the week. Well, in my particular case, I’ve been fortunate enough to have that happen for the better part of the last four years in the form of the curious case of one Pat McDonell.

PAT “THE WIZ” McDONELL with a nice dodo on an outing with the author on Aug. 1, 2015.

This newspaper that you have in your hands is the very first issue of Western Outdoor News that Pat hasn’t been the standing editorial director for since 1983. Think about that for a minute. That’s quite a run. One serious juggernaut of a run, to be more precise. Each and every week for three and a half decades, Pat has put his stamp on the California outdoor scene, with a pulse on the bigger picture for the entirety of the ride. From a 28-year-old child-less sports writer to a 63-year-old proud grandfather. That’s mightily impressive by any measure. And if anybody has genuine admiration for that, I certainly do. After all, I know how the sausage is made.

I first met Pat over a sandwich in San Clemente in November of 2013. Just a month earlier, I had walked into the old building that housed WON and applied for an open associate editor position after failing to find any meaningful employment that was at all satisfying for a couple of years after picking up a journalism degree from San Diego State — little did I know at the time, Pat had done the exact same thing 32 years prior to me. And here we were, eating a sandwich and him assuring me that my being out of the fishing game for a dozen years after a six-year stint in the Navy and another half-dozen in the Cal State education system wasn’t going to be any problem at all, and that I’d do just fine. Shortly thereafter, I would take my first assignment of covering the Lake Wohlford Trout Opener in December, and well, here we are today. Time really does fly, especially so when you’re having fun. One of those cliches that fully holds its weight, ya know?

When I first came onboard with WON, it was at a time when Pat was about to have the first of two hip replacement surgeries. Fast forward 3½ years and on the next-to-last paper-producing Monday of his mind-boggling 34-year run as editor, Pat was in Escondido, having yet another surgery, this time on a severed index finger tendon that he’d mangled up something fierce just a week prior. Between that first hip surgery and his newly Robo­copped finger, I got the opportunity to know Pat relatively well, and I got to learn an absolute ton of things from him. Things that will forever serve me well, and I am a better editor — and likely, man — for it.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure that he really ever set out ­­intending to teach me any­thing at all necessarily. The husband of a lifelong teacher, I guess it’s just second nature to him at this point. But you’ve become one helluva teacher when you can actually teach without actually teaching. You feeling me here on this one?

And I’ve managed to learn a whole lot more from Pat than what is just within the realm of everything related to fishing and newspapers. The first eye-opening lesson coming when, just maybe six months removed from a second hip replacement surgery, at 60 years of age, he made a 13-mile climb to the summit of Mt. Edgecombe in Sitka, Alaska. Whaaaat??? Who does that? Seriously. Who climbs gnarly mountains in the Great White North with a pair of titanium hips at 60 years old? Hell, who does that kind of thing at a healthy 40? The answer? Very few. But Pat’s one of those few, and when you pay attention to things, you can learn a whole lot just in observation. I know I have.

Folks often talk of people who really LIVE life to the fullest. It’s a phrase that’s thrown around all too loosely for my particular liking — as are most things cliché — but there’s no doubt that Pat is indeed one of those people. In nearly four years’ time, I can’t recall a single time that Pat gave way to any obstacle, challenge or curveball thrown his way. I’ve watched him plow through the two hip surgeries, only to be riding his bike, chasing down tuna and playing beach volleyball just months removed from the knife. I’ve bore witness to countless of his last-minute editorial changes and judgment calls that most always ended up being the right ones, and all with a strange sense of calm when many others might panic. I’ve stood back and watched him so gracefully handle the passing of loved ones in his family with such an incredible perspective that few display. Like Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson from the cult classic, Dazed and Confused, Pat just keeps on “L-I-V-I-N…”

There have been a lot of great and talented people at WON over the years, all who’ve made their contributions to building a long-standing, 63-year tradition of the newspaper. But few have put their mark on the paper as Pat has, being editorial director for over half of the paper’s long lifespan.

In nearly four years, I have yet to hear anyone in the industry — or even outside the industry, for that matter — utter a bad thing about him. It’s been nothing but praise, fond stories from years’ past and smiles all around. Many people over the years have parted ways with thousands of their hard-earned dollars, not just to fish in Alaska or Cedros Island or Cabo on a WON-sponsored trip, but to do so in those unique fishing Meccas with Pat in particular. That alone speaks volumes, or at least it should. I can’t tell you how many invitations Pat’s received over the years. Invitations to fish, invitations to speak at a meeting or a club function, invitations simply for dinner and / or a couple beers. And Pat generally accepts most of them, or tries to, always willing to make himself available for all the right reasons.

And now, he’s exiting stage right, just as he entered. On his terms, at his time. Though he did stay on a little longer than he had originally planned, primarily just to ensure a few of the staff’s vacations would be covered — because well, that’s just what you’d expect him to do at this point. Sincere congratulations, accolades and kind words have been finding their way to him from every direction these last couple weeks, and rightfully so. When you do something so well, for so long and so consistently, you get that kind of praise, and it’s extremely well deserved at that.

Personally, Pat stepping away as editor of WON is a little bittersweet for me. There are far too many ridiculous stories that are entirely unsuited for print that I’m going to greatly miss hearing on a Wednesday afternoon. The play-by-play breakdown of the cow tuna he boated in Cabo just a few days prior. Tales of the old days, yarns of characters both past and present.

Many people gripe and bemoan their boss. And here I am, writing effusive praise for mine. I feel fortunate to be able to do so, and somewhat honored to be doing it. We have this odd unspoken trust that’s developed between us over the years, and this is the very first I think I’ve ever even mentioned out loud — well, sort of out loud — but I am more than happy to do so.

It’s been a pleasure, Pat. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of my little slice of “life with Pat McDonell,” just as I’m sure so many others have before me and many more will continue to enjoy their slivers in the future. Congratulations on not just a fantastic and well-reputed career, but more so on a life very well lived. You’ve been a hell of an example, and set an extremely high bar to reach for. But I’ll reach for it nonetheless, just as you would if you happened to be in my shoes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my living obituary of sorts, as I know you’re far from done L-I-V-I-N.

And on the bright side of things, maybe we’ll get to actually fish together more than just a few times a year from here on out moving forward.

So, relax and enjoy, my friend. Spend every Monday on the sand, or pulling on a fish. Just no longer in the office — unless I really, really need you... Nonetheless, I have no intentions of “crying wolf.”

And also, be sure to have that Robalo dialed in and ready to rock each and every Tuesday. I’m going to be tired and in need of a little R&R after the majority of my future Pat-less Mondays (and I’m really even not joking here. Get it ready… Maybe even for tomorrow).

It’s been fun. Thanks boss. Now drop that bleeping mic and go enjoy yourself. You deserve it.

Reader Comments
Blake, thank you so much for writing this! I've shared it with so many of my friends and family members — and they've all been blown away. What a wonderful tribute! I especially loved this part: "And now, he’s exiting stage right, just as he entered. On his terms, at his time. Though he did stay on a little longer than he had originally planned, primarily just to ensure a few of the staff’s vacations would be covered — because well, that’s just what you’d expect him to do at this point." He's definitely one of a kind. I'm glad you guys had such a great working relationship — and I love that you have had similar paths (go Aztecs!). Best of luck taking the reins! Megan McDonell (Pat's daughter)

Megan McDonell
Thanks so much for the kind words. I was glad I could whip up something kind of cool for him — he certainly deserved it... Glad you and everybody else seemed to really enjoy it! Thanks for sharing it with your family and friends. He deserves the praise... And thanks for the well wishes. You've got a heck of a Pops! — Blake
Blake Warren
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