A Friend’s Birthday Cards and New Year’s Eve Campfire

Posted By Mike Padgett

 

April 22, 2014

MESA, Ariz. – For several days, I’ve been thinking about a breakfast meeting I had 16 years ago with a friend. He loved life and he wore many hats, including those of media executive and community activist.

Our meeting was in the spring of 1998. Chuck Wahlheim was the first to contact me when I returned to Arizona. I had accepted an offer to relocate to Phoenix to write for The Phoenix Business Journal after working for nearly a year at a newspaper in Washington State.

I had moved out of state in 1997 after the owners of The Phoenix Gazette, my former employer, closed the 117-year-old newspaper.

Chuck saw the news item in the Journal about my return to Arizona. He called to invite me to breakfast.  We met in a hotel restaurant in east Phoenix.

 

Compassionate boss

Chuck was my old boss at the Mesa Tribune from years earlier. From 1977 to 1985, Chuck was the CEO in the executive offices while from 1978 to 1987 I was one of the reporters in the newsroom.

I believe Chuck’s family and friends could share many stories about the influence his energy and guidance had upon their lives.

In my case, there was the day that Chuck ­– after reading one of my stories – ordered the editor to give me a raise, beginning immediately. The story featured a young family I discovered living out of their car parked along the Salt River northeast of Mesa.

That was Chuck – a take-charge, do-it-now kind of business leader.

 

Always a news junkie

When I entered the restaurant that morning for breakfast with Chuck, I saw him seated in a booth. He was focused on the morning newspaper.

Chuck rose to greet me. He acted like we’d just seen each other, though we hadn’t talked since he left the Tribune in 1985. Two years later, in 1987, I resigned from the Tribune when I received a better offer from the Gazette.

During breakfast, Chuck and I updated each other on our careers and families. He said his goal in contacting me was to stay connected as well as to offer his help in arranging interviews with East Valley business leaders.

 

Kids Voting

At this point in his life, Chuck had many achievements. He was former CEO of Cox Arizona Publications, which once included the Mesa Tribune, Tempe Daily News and Chandler Arizonan newspapers.

Chuck helped launch East Valley Partnership in 1982. He left the news business in 1985. In 1988, he helped create Kids Voting, a non-profit organization that encourages children to learn the importance of voting. Three years later, the program went national with Kids Voting USA. In the 2012 presidential election, about 1 million students cast ballots, according to press accounts.

Chuck’s biography on LinkedIn says he “had an extensive career owning or operating over 50 newspapers, network and cable television stations, both as a publisher and corporate CEOs.”

Another story involves the New Year’s Eve party Chuck helped arrange at Usery Mountain Regional Park just northeast of Mesa. Invited were the Tribune staff and a few East Valley business contacts. Chuck reserved a campsite for his rented RV. A couple more RVs were there.

I saw the party as Chuck’s way of celebrating good fortune with friends and employees. The desert park is on the slopes of the foothills, giving us a panoramic view of the East Valley’s city lights.

It was cold that December night, but Chuck’s friendship matched the warmth of the New Year’s Eve campfires.

 

Helped uncover news

I remember the time I joined Chuck for lunch at the Mesa Country Club. He had arranged a meeting with a county official involved in a budget dispute with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The lunch meeting was a backgrounder for Chuck and me. Later, it was confirmed that the final authority on the department budget rested not with the county official, as had been assumed, but with the county supervisors.

After I left the Tribune in 1987, the birthday cards Chuck sent me became our only contact. I don’t know how many others received his cards each year, but I’m sure the number was large.

It was in 1998 when Chuck and I shared breakfast. After that, our careers sent us in different directions. I saw him a couple more times over the years when I contacted him about business stories.

 

Birthday cards stopped

My work progressed at the Business Journal. But in 2006, after 33 years in newspapers, I decided to take early retirement.

Eventually, Chuck’s birthday cards stopped arriving. I made a mental note to invite him to lunch so we could stay connected.

But I waited too long. Charles “Chuck” Wahlheim died earlier this month. He was 82. I will always remember Chuck as a true friend and as one of those executives whose smiles, encouragement and interest in you and your family were genuine.

 

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Apr 22nd, 2014

2 Comments to 'A Friend’s Birthday Cards and New Year’s Eve Campfire'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Mike: What a beautiful tribute for your special friend. Thank you for sharing your story it was very touching.

  2. Lesley Sargent said,

    Mike, your writing is spot on and inspiring. He was the same age as my Dad who spent his entire career in radio; a time and generation we won’t see again.

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