When I was a child, there was little love in our family for journalists.
My grandfather, a federal judge in Tucson, spoke of newspaper reporters who botched the facts, or twisted them to fit the story.
When I told Grandpa that I yearned to be a journalist, he did a pretty good job disguising what must have been disappointment. He loved us so much and would never have discouraged our dreams.
I knew from the time I started my “Dear Gabby” column in the student newspaper at St. Michael’s Parish Day School that I wanted to be a journalist.
I wanted to tell people’s stories.
I walked into the Citizen newsroom Jan. 7, 1985, as a journalism student at the University of Arizona.
I knew I was home.
The image of the adrenaline-charged editors jumping up from the news desk to yell “Stop the presses,” still brings a shiver.
My early days were spent filing photo negatives and answering phones. Then I became a real reporter. I covered cops and courts. I covered Mexico. I wrote breaking news and in-depth projects. I was doing what I dreamed of, telling the stories of people in the city I was born and raised in, the city my ancestors lived and died in.
I became assistant city editor, and later assistant features editor.
Then came the babies. After becoming a mom, I worked out a deal that allowed me to work part-time, mostly from home. I wrote about fetal alcohol syndrome. I wrote about drug-addicted parents. I wrote about violent children.
They are unforgettable, these stories of a lifetime.
There was the elderly woman, dressed in black and clutching rosary beads as she prayed at the base of a mountain of rubble in the heart of Mexico City.
Her daughter’s family lived in a high rise that tumbled during an early morning earthquake that left more than 10,000 dead. She prayed for a miracle that somehow her family had escaped.
It was a miracle that never came.
There was the hulking, blind man with mental illness who was led shuffling and shackled into the courtroom after voices in his head told him to kill his mother, whom he said had inflicted cruelty upon him for decades.
There was a young woman with all her possessions piled into an abandoned shopping cart as she headed to a shelter after completing rehab. Free from methamphetamine after a 13-year addiction, she was starting a new life for her and her boys.
There were the heroes, too many to count.
Gail Leland was the first hero I met along the way. Her 14-year-old son Richard was murdered in 1981, and his killer was never caught.
Gail and her best friend, Gloria Fritz, helped others going through their same hell. Gloria’s adorable 7-year-old daughter, Cathy, was murdered in 1982.
The two moms sat in their living rooms and talked with other parents who had lost children to murder. Today, 27 years later, Gail continues her mission, always missing her friend, Gloria, who died from cancer in 2000. Through Parents of Murdered Children and now Homicide Survivors, Gail has helped thousands of Tucsonans devastated by the murder of a loved one.
There was quiet rancher Jim Corbett, who was prosecuted for helping Salvadorans fleeing violence in their homeland. He offered food and shelter to the tormented.
There was Teresa Kellerman, who 31 years ago adopted John, a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. What started as a mom advocating for services for her son led to Teresa educating people around the globe about the permanent brain damage caused when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol.
There were Laura and Bill Henderson. When Laura said her prayers at night, she would ask God to let her live long enough to see her grandsons into adulthood. The couple, in their 70s and 80s, were helping with homework, packing lunches and carting kids around after the boys’ parents could not care for them.
The Hendersons were among thousands of Tucson grandparents left to raise children, usually when parents are lost to addiction, incarceration, mental illness or death. They found help and a family at the KARE Family Center in Tucson.
There was Mark Loebe, a young man struggling to figure out who he was. He had pieced together his past, one in which he was so terribly beaten as an infant that he nearly died.
But he survived, and was adopted. Mark dreams of someday becoming a dad. For now, he helps other youngsters who have been abused.
They are the stories that live in my heart, and in the Tucson Citizen archives. I am forever grateful to those who shared their lives with me.
It has been a privilege to write about the city I love so dearly. I am thankful for my grandfather, my parents, my brother, my husband and my three children for all their love and support, as well as my incredible Citizen family.
I hope I made you proud, Grandpa.