Earlier this week, a Journal-World news story told of Ralph Gage retiring after 43 years at the newspaper.
The Kansas University graduate from Ottawa came to the J-W from East St. Louis in 1969 and worked from a news reporter to managing editor to general manager, chief operating officer and director of The World Company, parent company of the Journal-World.
He excelled in every assignment, whether as a reporter, a manager of individuals, a tutor, a leader and a visionary.
Gage was “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week whether it was dealing with a power outage in the middle of the night that stopped the newspaper’s presses, missed papers, answering angry phone calls from unhappy readers or explaining the paper’s editorial position on a specific issue. He expected and demanded performance and did not suffer fools gladly.
His loyalty could not be questioned, nor his honesty. There were times when arrogant, mean-spirited individuals made threats, but Gage did not back down and refused to knuckle under to selfish and wrongful charges.
As Susanne Shaw, the nationally and internationally recognized Kansas University journalism faculty member, said, “Gage’s management style was his ability to cut to the chase of the discussion on nearly every topic. He didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, but he told you what you needed to hear, and that’s very important for an organization.”
He could be tough when he needed to be tough but he also was and is generous and compassionate in many ways. He has a razor sharp memory that can recall past statements, pledges or accusations others had made, which later proved to be false or self-serving.
The newspaper business today faces many challenges, and there are any number of naysayers who talk about the decline of the daily paper. True, readership of the printed page, whether in newspapers or magazines, may be down from past years, but, as is true for many other newspapers, more people are reading the Journal-World today than at any time in the paper’s history. They are reading the J-W in its traditional form, which has been printed here in Lawrence since 1891, AND, throughout the world, they are reading the news assembled and written by J-W staff members on the company’s various websites.
Gage was, and remains, a traditional print journalist but, years ago, he quickly realized the need to be visionary and the danger of not adopting new technology and following the advice hammered home at every opportunity within the company to “drive with your brights, not your dims.”
He introduced innovative ideas, many of which resulted in numerous delegations from throughout the world coming to Lawrence to learn how and why various programs were being developed. He pushed his fellow staffers to have the vision and courage to embrace new ideas and techniques.
He has deep loyalties but he didn’t let these loyalties keep the paper from carrying out its responsibility to report the news. He didn’t mince words, and he didn’t hesitate to let individuals know when he thought they were wrong. He refused to be a silent “yes man” in various local programs, when he knew his ideas and thoughts ran counter to the thinking of others or perhaps were shared by others who agreed with him but didn’t have the courage to speak out or didn’t want to “rock the boat.”
Most every company needs a Ralph Gage. Lawrence and KU both need more Ralph Gages if they are to come anywhere close to reaching their potential. Complacency is Lawrence’s, as well as KU’s, great weakness, but there is no complacency in Gage. He doesn’t talk out of both sides of his mouth, which seems to be the practice followed by too many in today’s society.
Gage isn’t the only star in the Gage family. Martha, his wife and partner for 50 years this coming November, also has a distinguished career. She is a KU graduate with a master’s and Ph.D. in education. She was an elementary school teacher in Salina, and taught at Ottawa University and Mid America Nazarene University in Olathe. She served as head of teacher education and licensure for the Kansas State Department of Education. In 2006, she was national president of the National Association of State Directors of Teaching Education and Certification. And, in between these activities, she has been active in civic and church programs here in Lawrence.
Their daughter, Susan, also a KU graduate, was a member of the University of Nebraska journalism faculty and currently is managing editor of the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, and recently developed two new weekly newspapers for the Oregonian. Their son, Paul, another KU graduate, works in Washington, D.C., as chief of staff for Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader.
The Journal-World and World Company, as well as its subsidiary, WorldWest, have been fortunate to have Gage as a member of the organization for 43 years. Any business would be fortunate to have the talent, services and loyalty of a Gage.
Fortunately, Gage intends to remain in Lawrence and, in one way or another, will continue to serve the city well. He always did his best, in his many roles, whether at the J-W or as a long-time participant in Red Dog’s Dog Days, where he was eager to show he could keep up in the vigorous exercises with the younger participants.
He is not a quitter!