Happy In Bag

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tom Leathers

I learned a lot in my four months with Tom Leathers. The longtime Johnson County publisher and entrepreneur, best known for The Squire, died this week.

I worked for Tom one summer about twenty years ago. I did a bit of everything. The top priority, of course, was selling advertising space. As the new kid, I made cold calls and was assigned to accounts that had told Tom that they were through with him forever. I ended up writing a lot of "advertorial" To induce a business to buy an ad I’d promise them a story about the business in the paper.

I was also copy editor. That was a challenge, as Tom’s writing style was, to put it delicately, "conversational." I quickly learned to let Tom be Tom.

While his beat was Johnson County, Tom was at home in gray areas. His "best of" issues were the biggest money makers, as Tom would insist on securing advertising from each winner. And let’s say that the vote counting in reader polls may not have been entirely accurate.

Additionally, Tom was renowned for inventing impossibly absurd categories to maximize revenue. Winners of categories like "Best Reuben Sandwich In Olathe" weren’t uncommon. The topic of circulation numbers was another ongoing debate between Tom and his advertisers. The word "inflation" was tossed around quite a bit. When challenged on these issues, Tom would rant and rave. He was an expert yeller.

But the biggest lesson Tom taught me was that it’s possible to construct your own world out of your personal interests and passions. Tom’s idea of heaven would be a table at Winsteads during a busy dinner hour, pen and paper in hand. I hope he’s there now.


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