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Kind newspaper man will be missed

Did you know it was possible to scoot a sled down Eighth Street East, fly across the highway and slide for hundreds of feet across the ice in Polson Bay?

That’s one of many important things I learned from Paul Fugleberg. I thought it was a tall tale from his youth, but through the years I’ve come to believe the story he told me, followed by his signature chuckle.

Paul was the first person I met when I rolled into Polson in 2003 in search of The Leader-Advertiser, where I was about to continue my journalism career in Montana from California. Although the office was locked because it was way past closing time, he graciously opened the door for us, and handed us the latest issue.

Months later he would teach me the intricate art of editing a verbose story and the skill of diffusing any stressful situation with kindness.

Most newspaper folks I’ve worked with have also had the pleasure of working with Paul. When thinking of him, his kindness always enters the conversation, as well as his talent, work ethic and fairness.

“Paul was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Kindness seemed to color both the words he spoke and the words he wrote,” Valley Journal publisher Summer Goddard recalled, describing Paul as the best copy-editor a newbie reporter could ask for. “I am grateful to have known and learned from such a talented journalist and remarkable man.”

Valley Journal reporter Karen Peterson also worked with Paul during her time at the Leader. She remembers he talked about the old ways of newspaper production but handled the new technology with ease. And he had a calming presence on deadline.

“He made us feel like we could handle it,” Peterson said.

Maggie Plummer, a reporter at the Leader during my time with Summer and Paul, agreed.

“Even under the worst sort of newspaper deadline pressure, he was always calm and kind. I would think, how does he do it? I have no idea how he did it, but I admired him for those steadfast qualities,” she said.

Plummer said Paul was the most gracious person she has ever worked with. She recalled a time she and Paul were at a local authors’ event, where he told Plummer he had read her novel. “He grinned, leaned in, and gave me the ultimate compliment, his signature stamp of approval: ‘Ya done good, kid.’ I felt like I’d arrived,” she said.

Former Leader editor and Valley Journal editor Jim Blow said he’ll always be grateful for Paul, describing him as the perfect bridge for editors cutting their teeth.

“And not just me —for all those after me,” Blow said. “He was always the calm amid the storm, always positive, encouraging, and self-sacrificing. He oozed humility.”

When a few of us began to share ideas about starting our own newspaper, Paul would not join us. He was honest with his reluctance — and for good reason. He was fiercely loyal to the Leader and concerned that the competition would only divide the community. Although we believed the Journal would benefit the community and we moved forward, I’ve always respected his opinion and the heart that inspired it, and we’ve welcomed him to the office with open arms and hugs when he’d stop by to visit.

In recent years several of our requests to write a story about his life were turned down due to his humility. Yet he deserves an entire tome of a biography. The lives he inspired, mentored, touched and educated through his writing and kind actions will keep his legacy alive through many more generations.

And most likely he’ll continue to inspire kindness.

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