SAN DIEGO — It has been said that bad news comes in threes — and that has proven true with the recent deaths of Mervyn Dymally, Nancy Miller, and Gloria Penner. All three of them touched my life, and I’d like to pay tribute here.
The Associated Press sent me early in 1968 to Sacramento to cover the Legislature. Even though, at 22, I was still a rookie reporter, bureau chief Bill Stall (who later joined the Los Angeles Times) assigned me to the state Senate.
In those days, reporters had little desks along the walls on each side of the Senate chamber. Mine was across the aisle from Mervyn Dymally’s, then a state senator from Los Angeles. Later he would go on to become California’s lieutenant governor and after that a member of Congress.
I remember that on one of my first days while I was taking notes on a debate, Dymally leaned over and told me that the words I was hearing was only one part of the story. If I were to cover the Legislature, he said, I would need to understand some of the personalities and the rivalries among members. Then I might get to understand why some members occasionally took strong positions on matters they really didn’t care about.
From that day on, Dymally would “clue” me in on some of the dynamics behind the debates, his clues typically panning out when I would interview other legislators and Sacramento officials. I genuinely appreciated his guidance.
Some years later, I moved to San Diego to be a political writer for The San Diego Union. Nancy Miller was one of the Democratic party activists that I met. Generally, party volunteers — be they Republican or Democrat — are fairly interchangeable, just as baseball players are interchangeable. They play the same game, but for different teams.
Nancy, I always thought, was one of the more thoughtful party volunteers. She didn’t give her endorsements to Democrats by reflex; she thought about their positions on issues, listening very carefully to their answers. In primary elections, if she favored Candidate ‘A’ over Candidate ‘B,’ that meant something to other Democrats, especially in the Point Loma area, where she lived.
While serving on the staff of the San Diego Union (as the morning paper was called during my tenure there, 1972-1980), I would be occasionally invited by Gloria Penner to appear on her KPBS television show that was perhaps too cleverly called “That’s 30.”
In the days when reporters telegraphed their stories to their offices, they would follow them with the symbol -XXX- to indicate that the story was finished. Three X’s in Roman numerals add up to 30, so the intent of the title “That’s 30″ was to suggest that we reporters were wrapping up our stories on her show.
Later the show’s name was changed to “San Diego Week in Review,” which while more prosaic, explained the purpose of the panel discussion. We reporters talked about the stories we had covered for our respective publications, and then would question each other to bring out more details.
Reporters had their own name for Gloria’s show, which was “That’s 50,” because back then we were paid $50 per show.
Gloria enjoyed keeping up on the news and seemed to have an inexhaustible number of questions which made us–the reporters who covered the stories in the first place–always feel that we had to be on our toes. We didn’t want one of Gloria’s well-thought questions to catch us flat-footed.
Suddenly Merv, Nancy, Gloria, all are gone. Surely none of them will be soon forgotten. In each instance, I feel very lucky that our paths crossed.
May all three of them rest in peace.