Decade later, a legacy lives

When I think of the old Mirror in downtown Altoona, on the corner of 10th Street and Green Avenue, I think of a different age, of a then-afternoon paper operating at a slower pace, without a Sunday edition and no website around which to chase our tails.

I think of co-workers and friends who went to lunch at the Eureka and Ellsworth’s and, after putting the paper to bed, raising a glass or two at Sid’s Lounge.

Most of all, though, I think of Tom Gibb.

Gibb died 10 years ago – July 4, 2003 – at the age of 49.

He is at the top of the list of the best all-around journalists in central Pennsylvania history.

After spending 18 years at the Mirror (1976-93) as an award-winning reporter, editor, mentor and cartoonist who could do it all and usually did, Gibb embarked on a freelancing career for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Associated Press and ultimately as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s regional correspondent.

He was a lead reporter at the Flight 93 and Quecreek disasters, but he specialized in day-to-day news.

Always searching for a story and never willing to rest, which surely contributed to his heart attack and premature death, Gibb once left his own Super Bowl party because he wanted to chase an unassigned feature on people who had to work that day.

His first stop? Domino’s.

I’ve never known anyone who combined a better work ethic and sense of humor: His cartoons lined the Ebensburg funeral home during his wake.

He pushed through the political bureaucracy and loved the off-beat stories. One of the last stories he wrote was about an inmate’s arm being stuck in a toilet of an area jail.

And though he had a passion for news and being first, he had a large, compassionate heart that put subjects at ease and endeared him to so many of us.

He also was loyal enough to drive a cartoon to Ebensburg weekly for use in his hometown paper, The Mountaineer Herald.

There were tributes in the Post-Gazette and Morrisons Cove Herald this past week, by Laura (Malt) Schneiderman and Allan Bassler, both of whom had been inspired by Gibb.

Before they had met him in person, Post-Gazette reporters saw so many bylines by Gibb that they thought it was an assumed name of several anonymous writers, and if you go back into the Mirror archives, you can see the byline competition Gibb and Phil Ray would stage daily.

Ten years after his death and 20 years after his tenure at the Mirror, we try to keep his spirit alive, often making jokes and references to Gibb’s quest for the story, his 1-ADAM-12 mindset, his ear for the scanner and through his longtime surviving companion, Kay Stephens.

He’d no doubt be pleased that we have a local cartoonist in Bill Bettwy, who, like Gibb, has gained national syndication.

I only wish he were here to say so.

Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel