New London -- Of all the publishers Joe Wojtas has worked for during his 17-year newspaper career, only Reid MacCluggage remembered his name.
That was one small reason why Wojtas, The Day's Stonington reporter, was happy to find time before covering a zoning meeting Thursday night to drive to New London to offer his best wishes to MacCluggage, who is retiring after nearly 18 years as editor and publisher of The Day. The newspaper hosted a farewell party for MacCluggage at the Garde Arts Center.
“Thanks, Henry,” MacCluggage joked as he and Wojtas shook hands.
MacCluggage had to remember hundreds of names as he accepted congratulations, hugs, and handshakes from fellow journalists, civic leaders, and other well-wishers who attended the party. The crowd included his predecessor at The Day, former co-publisher Deane Avery, who offered just one complaint about MacCluggage's time at the helm.
“It kind of burns me up,” Avery said, “because I think the newspaper is a lot better now than it was when I was there.”
MacCluggage, 63, a Groton resident, leaves behind several achievements to support that claim. Since he took over as publisher in 1984, the New England Press Association has selected The Day as Newspaper of the Year five times. During his tenure, The Day also converted from afternoon to morning publication, boosted its daily circulation by more than 20 percent, increased its news staff from 53 to as many as 70, expanded its coverage into Rhode Island, and launched a Web site.
Along the way, the newspaper also won a battle in federal court with the Internal Revenue Service, which challenged The Day's status as a “split-interest trust” set up in the 1939 will of former owner and publisher Theodore Bodenwein. The trust's dual concerns are the operation of the newspaper and the support of the Bodenwein Public Benevolent Foundation, a charitable foundation also established in the will.
MacCluggage recalled the legal victory as perhaps his best day at The Day.
“Winning the IRS case meant that forever into the future, as long as The Day can be competitive in the marketplace, we will be a free and independent newspaper. That's what Bodenwein wanted.”
Gary Farrugia, the veteran journalist who will become The Day's new editor and publisher at year's end, said MacCluggage's passion for preserving Bodenwein's legacy has inspired him in the two months he's spent in New London so far.
“Reid has really put flesh and bones onto that concept for me,” Farrugia said. “He's helped me see that Bodenwein's will is not only a historic artifact, but it's also the Constitution of this newspaper.”
MacCluggage said The Day's ability to remain an independent newspaper has kept it closer to local residents, who he believes feel a sense of ownership over the paper.
A former reporter and editor at The Hartford Courant, MacCluggage said he hasn't decided how to spend his retirement yet. “I've decided to do nothing for about six months,” he said. He and his wife, Linda, have planned a vacation in Russia for next spring.
His son Scot, 34, said he's willing to bet that his father will end up writing a book. “He'll stay busy, I'm sure,” he said.
Colleagues and local civic leaders remembered MacCluggage Thursday as a devoted newsman, avid runner, and a loyal New York Yankees fan.
Terese Karmel, an editor at the Willimantic Chronicle, remembered learning valuable lessons from MacCluggage when she was a reporter at The Courant. He had a habit, she said, of walking through the newsroom with his hands in his pockets and clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth while he tried to make important decisions. “No matter what was going on, no matter what hurricane was swirling, he was the calmest guy on the planet,” she said.
Eliot White, publisher of the Meriden Record-Journal, said he has attended a few games with MacCluggage at Yankee Stadium since they met in 1984. “As a fellow Yankees fan, I wish him the best in retirement,” White said. “It will be a loss to our industry, but a well-deserved reward for him.”