Missing Bob Ziebell

One primary reason this blog exists, died today.

For the few who regularly read my posts you don’t know Bob Ziebell, nor would you. He’s not a musician, but he was an artist. Bob Ziebell was my editor at the Orange County Register and, if not for him, I can safely say I never would have turned a book I began in college into a writing career.

He was kind and gentle. Grandfatherly. I once told him he was the Dan Marino of newspaper editors. I had no idea what I was doing as a writer much less a journalist when I was hired to cover the city I lived in so many years ago.  Bob taught me everything. I frustrated him often and stumped him regularly when I’d sit next to him and point out my flaws, while he edited. He simply shook his head, laughed and asked why I didn’t write that the first time. Something clicked in my brain and it didn’t click until I knew someone was reading.

Ziebell was not an editor who handed out praise like candy nor did he critique unfairly. I sat right behind him in the office and remember the first time he turned around to tell me job well done on an article. It came probably six months after I was hired and 100 articles published. I also remember the first time he told me to completely re-write a piece.  I wasn’t hurt because he didn’t like it, I was disappointed in myself for letting him down.

He was that kind of editor.

Bob Ziebell taught me the true profession of journalism and how it was done back in the day. Trust me, what you read in the papers or on news sites today hardly represent good writing. I say that based on everything Bob taught me. I shake my head – just as Bob did to me – reading “professional” newspaper articles, but I know why. Because I made the same mistakes Bob refused to allow in the newspaper he edited.

For that I am grateful.

I doubt he’d appreciate my writing more than 20 years later. Blogging gives us writers a bit of “freedom” not available when writing for a specified space (called inches) in a newspaper. The internet was just underway when I was reporting so most people still subscribed to newspapers. This required tight and active writing. (Bob would be impressed as I just rewrote that last sentence and made it active.)

I’m not sure how the media companies manage it nowadays as newspapers fold and reporters post articles online. In my day job, I also blog but I have no editor, just like Drew’s Reviews. When I write, I often hear Bob’s voice and sometimes wish I could let him read and edit my “stuff.”  For whatever reason, I dialed in on active writing only about five years ago. I do everything in my writing power to eliminate passive writing, something I sadly excel at and Bob desperately tried curbing under his tutelage. Though I have found ways (not always) around using “is” and “are” I no longer have Bob to say I am on the right track. He, by the way, would not approve of me using his first name in this obituary.

Obituary for Bob Ziebell

After several years on the job, Bob invited me to his Elks Club where we discussed shop, life and the day’s events over a beer. In 2002, he published Fullerton – A Pictorial History and I attended the book release event. He was no longer my editor then but still sat three feet away. He signed a copy to me and my wife adding “Best Friends and Supporters.”

One thing Bob often did that usually cracked me up, but I’ll admit sometimes bugged me, is when he would edit an article and if I wrote something he couldn’t figure out or when he’d listen to my phone calls (he was literally five feet away) and I’d say something peculiar, Bob would push his chair out a few inches, twist his body around while remaining seated and give me this look. A look as if to facetiously say “What are you doing?”
It became a Bobism for me and I kid you not, I do the exact same thing and give the same look to people today!

During my time at the Register, he suffered a heart attack and needed bypass surgery. I remember him talking about the body pillow he hugged to prevent the incision in his chest from opening. Yikes. You know what? I think it was over the 4th of July holiday too.

Dang did he love the lunch truck. “I want a doughnut,” he said with a bit of tone months later. He probably deserved it since he watched his diet pretty well after his surgery. He once ruptured his Achilles on a walk. But he persevered and eventually retired from the newspaper business in 2005. Ziebell graduated from Winona State University in 1956 with degrees in English and History.

I last saw Bob more than 15 years ago. Probably 10 years ago or so, well after I moved from Southern California, I found his email and tried staying in touch. Unfortunately, we didn’t and my memory of his response led me to believe he either was not well or he just didn’t care for emailing. I’m guessing it was the latter or I just misunderstood.

Bob Ziebell was an “old guy” when I started at the Register and came from the old school. I would never have made it five years in the business if not for him. We teamed for three years before he scaled back his workload and I was given another editor. A notorious editor who once had an employee quit just days on the job. I lasted two years because by then I knew what I was doing.

Thanks to Bob Ziebell.

And you know what? I wouldn’t be who I am today professionally also without Bob Ziebell.

Those of you who read this blog know how much the band Rush means to me. When Neil Peart died I toasted him with a draw from a bottle of 15 year old The Macallen.

I pulled that bottle out again today.

Thank you Bob Ziebell.

I miss you.