Felix Grabowski: Memories and Tributes Flood In
Felix Grabowski, digital journalism pioneer and former creative director for The Detroit News, is being remembered with affection and respect by past colleagues this week. He died Wednesday at age 57.
As the news of the death Wednesday of former Detroit News online creative director and digital journalism pioneer Felix Grabowski has spread across the country, tributes and memories have come flooding in via email, Facebook and text. Here were some additional comments; we'll add as we get more:
George Rorick, former graphics and multimedia editor at The Detroit News and USA Today, among many other publications, and a pioneer in informational graphics, worked with Felix in the 1980s building the graphics department at The News into a national force. He sent this note via email:
A message to Felix that I wish that I had sent him sooner...
Felix, do you remember when... we first met at The Detroit News, in the mid to late 80s, to become temporary Graphics Director? I was very pleased to have you play a leading role in what was soon to be known as one of the most successful visual journalism teams in the nation. I remember you were extremely proud of the team and gave them all the credit.
Do you remember when... we did our best to convince the North Plant (composing plant), to at least try to expand their production processes to enable us to produce more compressive graphics and page designs? Do you remember when they would just answer NO, we don't do that here? So you would say, okay then, we'll do it and their response would always be, NO, you can’t do it either. Those were the good old days before the Mac. I specifically remember your feature page on new Radio and TV coverage that year.
Do you remember when... we hired all those young guys and gals? You remember...Jeff Dionise, Pegie Stark, Laura Brown, Michelle Fecht, Pat Sedlar, Jeff Goertzen, Bill Baker, Marty Westman and later Bob Graham? That was the year we put together our "Graphics Dream Team".
Do you remember when... you and Steve Cvengros were totally devastated one year when SND awards were announced and The Detroit News received nothing? I remember your big smile the next year when The Detroit News received more than 25 awards including several Gold.
Do you remember when... the awards continued to come in year after year? Even after some members of the original team moved (including me), you guys continued to win award after award as I sat lonely in D.C. and watched you and gang beet the socks off everyone. Do you remember Felix?
Do you remember these outstanding projects Felix?... The Pope's visit to Detroit, The People Mover, Space Shuttles, Flight 255.
Do you remember when... Jeff Goertzen and Laura Brown drove more than 25 miles to the North Plant, in a fierce winter blizzard, as fire shot from the tail pipe of Jeff's VW, as they raced to meet a deadline?
Those were only a few memories I wish I would have remembered to share with Felix just a few days ago.
I remember Felix.
Sincerely and fondly,
Dave Kordalski, former graphics editor of The Detroit News and now assistant managing editor for visuals at The Plain Dealer:
Felix was full of life ... very quick with a joke -- and even quicker to appreciate one. As an early online pioneer, he worked his tail off at getting DetNews.com off the ground while making it look like he was having so much fun.
Felix was a heck of a print graphics pioneer, too. Way before I had the privilege of working with him, his graphics work had tremendous influence on my career, because he unlocked the potential of the Mac as a legitimate tool to hundreds of us in newsrooms around the country.
He will be missed.
Bill Dunn, a former reporter now working as a daily newspaper editor in Grand Island, NE:
"Felix will always be one of my favorite humans. His humor, intensity and commitment to doing it the right way set the tone for many others in the industry. He always made me laugh."
Mike Green, former News photographer and now a Chicago-based Associated Press photojournalist:
A very kind and wise man who taught me a lot. I loved working with and for Felix. His friendship and guidance made me a better person. He loved his family and children so much, I still remember listening to him talk to his mother in Polish every morning on from the photo desk. "Dziękujemy," Felix, for all the joy you brought to our lives.
Henry Stokes, former Detroit News editor who went on to a career at the Commercial Appeal:
It's been 23 years since I last saw Felix. He and a few others from graphics and photo at The Detroit News took me to lunch to bid me good luck as I left to work at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Among the rituals of farewell. I was especially touched by this one. At least back in the crusty 1980s, there festered a professional gulf between word editors and visual editors in the newsroom. In typical fashion, Felix bridged that divide as if it didn't exist, using his friendly smile. I recall his casual approach, and helpful attitude. He was enthusiastic about journalism's expanding forms. I may have been 10 years his senior, but he was the teacher.
Stephen Cvengros, a News graphics editor from 1984-87, is executive producer for msn.com, Microscoft's news and entertainment portal, based in Seattle. He also has been a Chicago Tribune editor.
He was a great teammate, always challenging what we'd do to make it better. Always trying to out-think the problems. We worked long hours, big stories and I'll always remember the joy he got in telling the story in unique and new ways via graphics. We are all better having worked with him and known him as an excellent journalist who loved to innovate. A huge loss.
Sharon Martin, Newspapers in Education manager for the Detroit Media Partnership, sent this tribute via email:
Felix will always be my favorite curmudgeon because of his intelligence and sly wit. We met through his work at The Detroit News, but I got to know and appreciate just how fine a man he was through development of the Detroit Newspapers in Education (DNIE) website - the start of nieonline.com. He amazed me with his creativity, but most of all I loved exchanging quips and zingers with him. He made me laugh and I feel lucky to have been part of his universe. He was a proud and private man, who loved his family, but gave so much to so many people. He left far too early, leaving a hole in my heart.
Don Asmussen, syndicated cartoonist of the strip Bad Reporter, who worked as a graphic artist at The Detroit News from 1989 to 1992:
Back in the day (that day being 1989 - 1992), I worked as an illustrator/graphic artist for The Detroit News, having been hired by Dirk Cassleman (sp?) and Felx G. I was coming off a smaller paper, the Portland (ME) Press Herald, and I was scared shit-less. I had lied (during my interview) and told them I had done "full page" graphics before. I HADN'T, but I wanted to play in the big leagues. They hired me, and I continued to be scared shit-less for the first month at The News. Felix's cubicle was distinctive - it had a cloud of his cigarette smoke above it - and he looked kinda like a Doonesbury character back then, with his dark feathered hair and moustache and cigarette. He intimidated me at first, very fast-talkin', smart, wise-ass, sarcastic, etc, like an old-timey newspaper man. His "shoot the friggin' puck" on deadlines leveled me. The first two weeks, I was convinced he saw I was a fraud.
Then he invited me over to his place (with co-workers) to watch the Super-Bowl. He was sweetest host I'd ever met. Stunned me. Is this the same dude from work? That was Felix. He got the best work out of you from 9-5 (or 3-11), but really LIKED you, too, on a personal level, after the job was done. That party calmed me. I found my comfort zone, and started producing better work.
I remember, specifically, his love of the first Jurassic Park novel. and his interest in rumors of a possible movie. At the time, there was a new park, in Detroit, which was based on that concept, but with giant animatronic dinosaurs. Felix assigned me to go research it, and create a FULL PAGE GRAPHIC about it (oh god no). I spent a day there, and saw some of the most unconvincing full-size animatronic dinosaurs in the history of mankind. Upon returning to the office, I am convinced that my imitation of the fake T-Rex saved my job. Felix laughed for what seemed like forever. He couldn't fire me if I could make him laugh like that. Eventually, he'd make me do humourous "going-away" cards for any staffers who moved on. I think he realized it was my only talent.
Anyway, he ended up being the best boss I ever had. It kills me that he's gone and I didn't get to talk to him about his illness. He would
have made me do a FULL-PAGE GRAPHIC about it. I'm convinced.
Goodbye Felix. You were amazing.
Peter Landry, vice president and educational director with Hollister Creative:
Felix was one of a kind. And for all his reputation as a curmudgeon, it was a pleasure for us to work with him year after year. He was straightforward, professional, organized, no frills and no drama. That is a great set of attributes in this day of flaky and difficult clients. It is no wonder he was successful building and running with NIE online. I still think fondly of the dinners we shared at NIE conventions, how his personality could fill a table and his laugh carry everyone along. We will miss him, as will everyone who cares about good journalism, hard work, ethics and a big heart.
And from Facebook:
Jillian A. Bogater: My desk on the national desk was just steps from Felix. He was so, so kind. What a great loss.
Jim Mcfarlin: God, I liked Felix. He was quietly innovative and always an extremely great guy to me. What a loss.
Satoshi Toyoshima: I'm so sorry to know this sad news. I used to work closely with Felix when The News initiated Flash-based multimedia contents. He will be missed.
Steve Thorpe: I'm shocked. "Phil" and I were corresponding a few weeks ago and I had no inkling. He was very helpful and supportive -- no surprise there -- and I was grateful. One of the best guys I ever worked with.
Tim Summers: Felix was instrumental in getting me to Detroit and an inspiration to visual journalists. RIP Felix
Maryann Struman: Felix was one of my oldest friends at The News. So funny, such a good soul, he taught me so much when I was so young and has been a true friend ever since. I remember so many moments in his life: his wedding, his baby ... his mom passing, etc. The sun is shining but not quite as bright as it would be with him in this world.
Marty Westman Felix was a great friend and mentor. I'm shocked today and very sad to hear this news.
Laura Varon Brown Incredibly sad and very reflective of the great days when such innovation was going on - and without any of the tools we have today. Felix had to harnes a lot of us young bucks and his humor and even keel became so apparent as we all matured. His heart through tough times was wonderful. Thinking of his family and friends.
Janice Kowalski Monarrez: What a lovely man he was, what a great heart. He will be missed.
If you have a memory or tribute you'd like added, you can do it below or send to firstname.lastname@example.org