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O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 11:27 a.m. CDT

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, 

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, 

— Walt Whitman

To the editor:

We all have a few moments — and probably a few people — who made a true difference in our lives. 

Peter Hussmann was one of those people for me. I only worked with Pete for a few years, but I cannot overstate the lasting impression he left with me. So I was devastated Tuesday to hear the news that Pete had passed away. 

When I first moved to Newton to take a job at the Newton Daily News Pete was far too busy and caffeinated for me to know what made him tick. 

As I came to learn later, Pete was simple enough. He loved his wife Julie, his two sons and a good story.

I was among a handful of young journalists who trained under Pete at the Newton Daily News and then went on to “bigger and better” things. Many of us former NDN staffers stayed in contact throughout the years and whenever we chatted, a story or two about Pete were sure to surface. 

He was so alive. He brought spark to any discussion, any setting.

When a good story broke he would pace the newsroom, unable to sit still. He would talk – to no one in particular – about different people we should talk to, different angles we should consider. 

And when we were proofreading, rushing to hit a press deadline, you could be sure that Pete would storm out of his office and repeat the words “read, read, read” at a rapid pace, as if he was willing our eyeballs to go faster. 

Pete was our captain. We all learned from him. He buzzed around the various departments of the Daily News like a hummingbird, around town he was the same. Full of energy, quick to make a joke or flash a smile that let you know he was thinking the same thing.

I came to Newton lacking confidence, not sure that newspapers were something I wanted to do with my life. By the time I left there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to follow Pete’s lead and captain a ship of my own.

He showed us that it’s OK to have fun, but it’s also necessary to stand up for ourselves. He taught us not to take ourselves too seriously. 

He gave us all the tools and freedom to be successful, and then sat back and watched us grow. He was a safety net that every young journalist should have, and a watchdog that every small town needs. He was devoted to his family and a rare breed willing to stand up for right or wrong despite any consequence that might come his way.

He invited me into his home and would share his thoughts on life and journalism over beers and barbecue. 

He lived and breathed journalism. Under his watch the Newton Daily News was redesigned and transformed into one of Iowa’s most awarded and respected daily newspapers. His legacy lives on throughout the pages of many newspapers where his lessons have been passed to other journalists. 

I consider myself lucky to count him as a friend and mentor. He was an asset to the Newton community, and a treasure to everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. 

On several occasions I simply referred to Pete as “captain” and more than once I would begin a conversation with Pete by borrowing from well-known journalist Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My captain!”

It’s only now, as I ponder the true impact that Pete had on my life, that the poem’s close has its full impact. 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, 

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, 

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won; 

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies, 

Fallen cold and dead.

Patrick Ethridge

Editor & Publisher

Beatrice Daily Sun

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