Today's news operations could use more owners like Lee Holmes
My heart sighed upon seeing Greg Champion’s Facebook post about the passing of my first boss on Guam, Lee Holmes. Mr. Holmes, as we all called him, passed away in December in San Diego.
I worked for him at the former Guam Cable TV for nearly five years. He was the reason I ventured halfway around the world from the flat, expansive plains of central Illinois to this tiny green gem in the great Blue Continent. As is often the case with formidable people who touch our lives, I don’t think I appreciated Mr. Holmes enough while in his employ. It was only after I had worked at other places and saw how other entities operated that I came to appreciate the Lee Holmes method of running a business and a news operation.
Working at Cable News, the news side of GCTV, was without question the most awesome job I ever had. The newsroom wasn’t state-of-the-art by any stretch. We had wooden cabinets and two drawers (if you were lucky) in which to store your stuff; electric typewriters; SIX-plicate news copy sheets on which to type stories (one copy of which two people had to tape together for the teleprompter); no cell phones; no internet (only an Associated Press news wire); and only our ingenuity with which to seek out truth on Guam and report it.
Still, we kicked a** and took names. Everyone watched Cable News back then. That was in large part due to Mr. Holmes pretty much leaving us alone to do our jobs. Every once in a while, he’d wander into the newsroom either to inquire as to what the lead story was going to be that night, or with a story idea that he would ask us to check out. Some of my coworkers took this as interference, but I learned quickly that if you stated your case to him as to why something was or wasn’t worthy of several minutes in our newscast, he would listen and say, “Ok.” As long as you backed up your stance with facts and solid reasoning, he was good.
He gave people like Greg, myself, and dozens of others including NBC reporter Farland Chang and CNN reporter Brian Todd the chance to build our news resumes through the subjects we delved into during that hour-long weeknight newscast.
Mr. Holmes was a proponent of, as Greg said in his post, the “courage to stand by your convictions. Fairness. Teamwork. Honesty and belief in contributing to a better community in which we live and raise our families.”
He was also extremely intelligent, having graduated from the Naval Academy and MIT. Sometimes I think he purposefully hid that keen intelligence behind an affable, down-home demeanor, but if you spoke with him for even a few minutes, it was quickly apparent that you were talking to someone on the ball.
Most of the people who worked for Mr. Holmes would agree that he left Guam far better than he found it. He employed hundreds of people throughout the era of Guam Cable TV, which he started in 1971 and led for the next quarter century or so, adding the Pacific Color Press and Hit Radio 100 to his media empire before selling it in the late 1990s.
Greg noted that shortly after he joined the operation as a new reporter in 1976, Typhoon Pamela devastated the island, and “Mr. Holmes kept us all on the payroll out of his own pocket.”
He offered his employees health insurance, retirement options, double time and a half on holidays (if I remember correctly), and free basic cable and one premium channel.
He was a generous and fair employer, with a few quirks. We weren’t allowed to eat in the newsroom, which, if you know news people and their insane schedules, was an impossible rule to follow. In fact, we came to relish defying it. It got to be a big joke as to how well you could hide your food whenever someone alerted, “Holmes!”. But he supported our news decisions, and didn’t interfere even if it meant losing an advertiser. I always respected that about him.
When you leave this earthly realm, the most you can hope for is that people have kind words to say about you. Lee Holmes was such a man, and such an employer.
Godspeed, Mr. Holmes. It was an honor to have known you, and an even greater honor to have worked for you.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.