Three-time Easterner Editor-in-Chief Scott Sawyer passed away Dec. 12, 2009.He was 37, and he loved to fish in Montana, watch endless movies and the TV show “Twin Peaks” and is the primary reason why The Easterner looks the way it does currently.
Sawyer was the motivation behind expanding the coverage of The Easterner. He said his goal was for the student newspaper to be “the official record of Cheney, Wash.”
At one point, he even attempted to persuade the Student Board of Publications, which oversees The Easterner, that the student newspaper could publish twice weekly.
The news coverage, from Ward Churchill’s weird visit to throwback jerseys to Board of Trustee news, was under Sawyer’s leadership.
Sawyer even stood up to bullies, especially when former EWU President Stephen Jordan called Scott and me (then the news-sports editor) into a private meeting in Jordan’s office in 2004.
Jordan was upset at Opinion Editor Bruno Baltodano, who had questioned the president’s lack of leadership in regard to the Savage throwback jerseys.
Sawyer refused to give into Jordan’s demands, saying later that he would, “rather be fired than work a day without a backbone.”
But Sawyer’s biggest accomplishment at the newspaper was the design work.
“He was one of the biggest reasons the paper started to look the way it did,” said Bill Stimson, EWU journalism professor. “We always had trouble getting pictures to come out right, or graphics to work. Scott was instrumental in ensuring that the newspaper looked sharp and attractive.”
Stimson said that Sawyer’s leadership as editor-in-chief also altered how the newspaper was run.
“Before Scott, The Easterner was a place that had a lot of pranks which found their way onto the newspaper pages. After he came on board, that ended, and the newspaper became a place of professionalism,” Stimson said.
He said that Sawyer helped provide a launching pad for EWU students to become journalists.
Former EWU Public Information Officer Stefanie Pettit said that Sawyer’s leadership created new avenues for The Easterner to shine in local campus news coverage.
“Sawyer guided The Easterner through important Web and design changes while always keeping in mind the imperative that the paper’s function is to inform and illuminate,” Pettit said. “He was at the helm during some tumultuous times at the university and always handled himself with professionalism and fairness.”
Pettit said Sawyer’s ability to manage people was key to his success.
“I know he was also a kind and generous man,” said Pettit. “It’s not easy to be a good journalist and be liked, but he managed quite nicely. I consider myself very fortunate to have known him and regret that he was taken so very young.”
Pettit wasn’t kidding. Even former President Jordan seemed to come around, mainly because of how Sawyer handled the president’s concerns. Sawyer did not appease, but he heard people out, which made a difference.
The year after Sawyer left The Easterner, the Associated Collegiate Press selected it as the best overall weekly publication in 2006.
If there is a chalkboard somewhere, I would personally mark Sawyer as the main reason why The Easterner won that year. Every single member of that newspaper in 2006 had been trained by Sawyer.
Some previous employees now owe their careers in graphic design, photography or journalism to what he taught them.
After he graduated, Sawyer taught graphic design at ITT Tech and marveled enough people to help set up a local weekly with Tom Burnett called the Rathdrum Star.
“If it weren’t for Scott Sawyer, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to realize my dream of starting my own weekly newspaper,” said Burnett. “Scott taught me the computer programs I needed to learn and was always available, day or night, to bail me out of a design or computer problem. I will forever be thankful for his kindness and for his friendship.”
Sawyer graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s in journalism. He continued as editor-in-chief through the first year of his graduate study at EWU. After he became a student assistant, teaching communication and graphic design classes at EWU.
Sawyer had completed all of the credits for his master’s in communication; except he hadn’t yet defended his finished dissertation.
Despite all of the success he had at The Easterner, Sawyer favored an article he wrote for The Spokane Falls Communicator. It was a fishing story about being with his father, Marion. The framed article still hangs in Marion’s hallway.
It seems strange to hold memories that I shared solely with him. I remember the time I was sick as a dog but wanted to get the newspaper out, so I drank a whole bottle of Nyquil and passed out on the couch in his office.
I also remember the time Sawyer and I had a class on Lewis and Clark with Dr. Dan Sisson whose love of Thomas Jefferson went so far that he was recreating Monticello in Newport, Wash. We attended a local watering hole before class and were more than a little buzzed. Sawyer and I would both say “Jefferson” randomly during the class with Sisson nodding in approval without knowing why we were saying it.
From that point on, when Sawyer and I would call each other, we always leave messages with “Jefferson.” It was one of the private jokes that are only one-sided and empty now.I mentioned that Sawyer liked to watch movies. He was a trivia buff who could recall movie lines and story passages. He had what George Plimpton called a “rat-trap of a brain.” Nothing got by him.
During the summer of 2004, both Sawyer and I took a screenwriting workshop with EWU professor Tom Mullin.
To see if people were paying attention, I would give one sentence movie pitches like: “Mortician who eats sandwiches on a cadaver and figures out crime,” or, “Diabetic pregnant woman who doesn’t take insulin in order to give birth.”
Everyone but Sawyer would nod and tell me what an original sounding idea that was.”You just ripped off the TV show ‘Quincy’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’ It’s like pitching a movie with good and bad represented by white and black clothing, using swords from old Samurai movies, theology, and 1950s science fiction and not calling it ‘Star Wars.'”
I avoided Sawyer’s funeral because I am still not ready for him to be gone. I like to think of him in a room I can’t go in yet.
If I had gone to his funeral, I would have delivered the following eulogy: “How can we honor the memory of a man like Scott Sawyer? Like all men, he was governed by the laws of physics. It is a scientific fact that hearts and clocks slow down as they approach the speed of light. Scott’s heart reached that speed transforming his matter into energy, into pure white light. Though he is no longer with us, he is all around us.”
Sawyer would have gotten that reference to John Lithgow’s eulogy on the TV show “Third Rock From The Sun” right away.
Had I delivered that at his funeral, Sawyer would have probably been the only person in the room to shake his head, laugh and find it totally appropriate.