"Well, that reporter just pulled a Pat Perry,” said a copy editor at the daily newspaper where I worked as a copyboy.
I was busy cutting the Associated Press wire printouts into individual news stories for the news editor when the copy editor looked up from his computer screen. I knew he was commenting on a news story he had just read, but I wasn’t interested in what that story was. I wanted to know what a ‘Pat Perry’ was. So I asked.
The copy editor, who was old, and the news editor, who was even older, looked at each other.
“Dean,” said the copy editor to the news editor, “you were here when it happened. Why don’t you tell the story.”
Dean put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his swivel chair, rocking ever so slightly. You could tell he was happy to take a break from the chaos of sorting through hundreds of news stories to pick the best articles for the next day’s morning edition. Dean lit a cigarette. You could smoke everywhere back then. He took a deep drag and then told me the story of Pat Perry.
Pat Perry was a reporter many years ago at the newspaper where we worked. He was a shy almost nonexistent man who it seemed had always been at the newspaper, always in the background. He had the smallest desk in the open bullpen of the newsroom in the farthest corner of the newsroom. While other reporters were loud and pushy, clamoring for attention, barking questions over the phone at their news sources, and badgering editors for better placement of their articles, Pat quietly and methodically churned out run-of-the-mill articles that never made the front page.
Other reporters had assigned beats like the city hall beat or the police beat, but Pat was the reporter who got what was left over, the smaller news stories that required little research or writing skill and which none of the other reporters wanted to cover.
“Just give it to Pat,” was what the editors said when other reporters threw a fit about having to do a yawn-invoking assignment. Every day the other reporters would go downstairs in small groups to the cafeteria for coffee breaks and they never thought to invite Pat. Pat was just there, an anonymous fixture like one of the desks in the newsroom.
Pat worked the worst shift at the newspaper, from 3 pm to midnight, Wednesday through Sunday. All the good news stories were gone by then since government offices closed promptly at 5 pm, and no one wanted to work on the weekends because they had families and picnics and Little League games to go to. No one knew if Pat had a family or enjoyed picnics or liked watching baseball; it was just assumed that he would work the hours that no one else wanted.
So, of course, it was Pat and Pat alone in the newsroom on that bone-cold winter night many years ago, a night which just happened to be Christmas Eve. Everyone else was at home enjoying eggnog with their families in front of cozy fireplaces and sparkling Christmas trees. The newspaper was operating with a skeleton crew that night. The city editor and the news editor were both downstairs in the break room. The copyboy had disappeared, as copyboys usually do. So Pat was the only one in the newsroom at 9:35 pm that night when the phone call came in.
And what a phone call it was.
On the phone was the desk sergeant from the local state police barracks. And what he said to Pat Perry was, “I might have a story for you.”
The sergeant told Pat that a state trooper patrolling one of the dark and desolate country roads outside the city had come upon a doe laying in the middle of the road. The trooper assumed the deer had been hit by a car. He got out of his cruiser and, flashlight in hand, approached the deer, only to find that not only was the doe still alive, but it had a 30-inch arrow sticking through it’s head. The arrow had a silver shaft with goose feathers, and its razor-sharp tip had entered just under the doe’s right eye. Six inches of the arrow were sticking out from the doe’s left jaw.
“Is still alive?” asked Pat.
“Just barely,” said the sergeant.
The sergeant said the trooper had placed the doe in the trunk of his cruiser and, with lights flashing and siren blaring, raced to a country veterinarian’s office.
“What’s the vet’s address?” asked Pat, grabbing his notepad and car keys.
When the city editor and news editor came back upstairs they were surprised to see Pat’s desk empty. Over the next two hours, as the midnight deadline for sending final proofs downstairs to the presses approached, they forgot all about Pat, until he came rushing into the newsroom 15 minutes before midnight.
“Where you been?” asked the city editor.
Pat just raised his hand, palm up, signalling he didn’t have time to talk. He sat down at his desk and began furiously typing away at his manual Underwood typewriter. At exactly one minute before midnight, he ripped the paper from his typewriter, rushed over to the news editor and handed him his freshly-typed article, saying, “Get this in, please.”
Not only did the news editor get it in, he ran the story on the front page above the fold. And when the city awoke Christmas morning, they were greeted by a news story that went like this:
State Troopers Save Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
by Pat Perry
In a true Christmas Miracle, Santa was able to deliver toys to little boys and girls all around the world today after state troopers saved the life of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who had been accidentally shot by a bow and arrow on Christmas Eve. In the nick of time, troopers rushed Rudolph to a local veterinarian ...
The newsroom phones started ringing on Christmas day with calls from both parents and children asking to talk to Pat and they did not stop for the next seven days. Letters, many of them with notes scrawled in crayon, arrived at the newsroom for Pat. On the first day back from the holidays every reporter and editor stopped by Pat’s desk to congratulate him. Even the Publisher, an aloof man who hardly ever stepped foot in the newsroom, made the trek from his office down the hall to Pat’s desk to shake his hand.
Over the next ten years Pat still got most of the boring news assignments, but the editors did move him to a bigger desk the same size as all the other reporters’ desks and closer to the center of the newsroom. Everyone noticed that there was a new bounce in Pat’s step. He smiled a lot more and every now and then he actually spoke up to fight for better placement for one of his stories. Some of the reporters even started inviting Pat to join them on coffee breaks.
Pat retired in his mid 60s and a few years later he passed away in his sleep. The lead sentence in his obituary, which was personally written by none other than the Publisher, referenced the fact that Pat was the author of the Troopers Save Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer news story.
“And that,” said Dean, stubbing out his cigarette, “is why whenever a reporter hits a home run with a news story, we say he pulled a ‘Pat Perry.’”
I handed Dean, who was a crusty, no-nonsense news veteran who seldom if ever smiled, a stack of clipped AP news stories and asked him a question.
“Yeah, well, how do we know that doe was really Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?”
And Dean, who at that moment actually smiled, said:
“Because Pat Perry said it was.”