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  • By Zaldy Dandan

See you on the other side, boss

Abed Younis

Abed Younis

Saipan--They may call themselves Territorial, Popular, Democrat, Republican, Covenant, Reform or Independent, but since the TT days, there have always been two, and only two, political camps in the NMI — the ins and the outs.

And recently, I was told that some partisans of both camps consider this newspaper as a “supporter” of the other camp.

My boss, Abed E. Younis, would have been pleased.

When he and his wife, Paz Tudela Castro, opened Marianas Variety almost half a century ago, their primary goal was to provide a truly independent source of news and views. It may sometimes seem that there is only one set of “right” opinions that everyone must adhere to, and dissenting views should be branded as beyond the pale. But Mr. Younis didn’t want MV to be “popular.” (In the 1975 plebiscite, he and Mrs. Younis opposed the approval of the widely popular Covenant.) He wanted his newspaper to be, above all, fair and factual. He also wanted its opinion pages to have opinions, especially about the most controversial issues of the day, no matter whose toes got stepped on — and that included governors, lawmakers, other officials and advertisers.

Then and now, MV’s opinions pages are singularly opinionated, and throughout its history, Mr. Younis’ newspaper has never flinched from taking a stand despite outright (and usually laughable) slanders as well as threats of lawsuits and boycotts. (In the early 1990s, a now defunct newspaper ran an editorial that was severely criticized by some government officials, including advertisers. The newspaper stopped publishing editorials.)

What Variety will always strive for, as Mr. Younis once said, is to earn the trust of the reading public. We may have our own opinions, he said, but others are entitled to their own, and Variety is here to provide them a forum.

Free speech, of course, is not absolute; there are rules to be observed, and Mr. Younis, time and again, would remind me that one can be opinionated without sounding rude or disrespectful — and without taking opposing views personally.

When I first arrived on island 26 years ago to edit another (defunct) newspaper, I overheard the following conversation between a motorist and a gas attendant at a Mobil station:

Motorist: “You still have newspaper?”

Gas attendant: “Nothing newspaper. Only ______,” referring to another (defunct) newspaper.

Many years ago, every Friday morning, I had to drive from Susupe, where I lived, to Navy Hill where my son’s school was located, and then back to Susupe. Along the way I would drive by two houses, and on the porch of each of them was a local man and woman, middle-aged, seated at a table, and on the table was a copy of Variety which they would proceed to read from cover to cover.

Another enduring recollection:

On the eve of election day in 1997, Variety had 128 pages. It was already 1 p.m., Friday, and we were still not done printing. But in the lobby of our office, several community members were patiently waiting to read the latest newly printed pages literally hot off the presses.

Mr. Younis’ influence in Marianas and Micronesian journalism and history cannot be overstated. Many of the editors and reporters he had hired over the years have gone on to work for other newspapers, media outlets and even government offices throughout the region. When the local economy peaked in 1997, Mr. Younis plowed back most of MV’s revenues into the newspaper business, this time on Guam and in Palau. He maintained close ties with another icon of Micronesian journalism, Giff Johnson of the Marshall Islands Journal, and was drawing up plans for each state of the FSM when the Asian currency crisis hit the proverbial fan, sending the local economy into a tailspin.

“We were here when there was no economy to speak of,” he told me, smiling his ever generous, ever optimistic smile. “We’ll be here when the economy recovers — and when it falls off a cliff, again.”

On Saturday morning, at a house he designed and built, surrounded by family members, my boss passed away, peacefully, of natural causes. He would have turned 84 on April 29.

He was an avid golfer, and he liked to dance to island music. He made his own pita bread which he served with extra-virgin olive oil, cheese, sesame seeds and oregano. It is the best beer-chaser ever.

Mr. Younis was also an artist, intellectual, businessman, husband, father, grandfather, employer, conversationalist, and a good and very dear friend of mine.

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