I’m going to miss Phil Lucas. I miss him already.
When I caught wind that he may have died Sunday night, I hoped it wasn’t true. But every hour that passed without him returning my text from a few hours earlier worried me more.
Phil personifies the old-school newspaper man. It wasn’t what he did; it’s what he was and always will be. It wasn’t his job or career; it was his calling. When I think of the role of the Press in a free society, I can always point to Phil Lucas and say, “There – that’s what it should look like. A watchdog of government and power. Relentless and true.”
He reminded me a bit of the great H.L. Mencken, the sardonic columnist in the early 20th Century. Mencken was famous for his scathing commentaries about the corruption & idiocy of politicians. Mencken called elections “the advance auction sale of stolen goods.” He defined a judge as “a law student who grades his own examination papers.” Phil had that sort of biting humor and keen insight.
Phil had a gift: He could see things other people missed. When I arrived in Panama City in 2007, I couldn’t wait for the News Herald on Sunday mornings. That’s when I would read Phil’s latest column about hanging out on the Alamo (the front deck) and musing about how politicians were destroying the value of a dollar with their selfish ignorance.
Here is one of my all-time favorite Phil Lucas columns from 2008:
I really wanted to meet Phil back then. I nervous, and wanted to impress him when I first sat in his office in 2007. Over the years, we became pals. I remember beaming with pride last year, when he told Loren Smith at the Shrimpboat Restaurant that “Burnie is always in a political fight – whether it’s for Dr. Charlie Siebert in the Boot Camp Case, for Marissa Amora, or against Congressman Allen Boyd, or for Sheriff Nick Finch. And I’ll be damn if he wasn’t right each time.” I didn’t know he listened to my show.
We teamed up recently and he was kind and generous with me. I told him how remarkable it was that he created The Bay County Bullet Weekly newspaper with his wife Linda after being let go by the Panama City News Herald a few years ago. He understood things that I wanted to understand. I looked at him as the very embodiment of The Press no matter where he was. Phil was passionate, wise and irrepressible. I loved bumping into him around town.
He had big plans for this year, too. The Bay Bullet was about to get even better; be even bigger. I was excited hearing him and Linda tell me about it at my favorite saloon a few weeks ago.
We lost a local Treasure when we lost Phil Lucas Sunday. We lost a forceful Champion of Liberty as well. But we gained a model example of how to be what we were made to be. How to carry on and do what God put us here to do.
“To thine own self be true.” – Pelonius to Hamlet
Nobody exemplified that better than Phil Lucas.
Read the news story here (Thought Phil would have wanted the headline to read, “Bay Bullet Publisher” rather than “Former News Herald editor.” I gotcha, Phil) :
And here is Phil on my TV show last year. He had such a cool way of saying things, didn’t he?
I pray that his family and friends find comfort in their time of grieving and loss.
Here’s one for the road, pal of mine …