In her book Stories That Stick, Kindra Hall writes that storytelling is a way for people to differentiate themselves, captivate others, and elevate causes.
Commenting on Stories That Stick, author Mel Allen says “Storytelling is an artform often lost today among snippets, sound bites, and buzzword copy. Which is unfortunate because story is how we are connected with each other since language began.”
Reading Hall’s book and thinking about Robbin’s observations brought back bittersweet memories about one of the best storytellers I have ever known. His name is Tom Gibb, also known as Gibber.
Gibber was an award-winning reporter for The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, a large daily regional newspaper in western Pennsylvania. In a 10-year period, he wrote more than eighteen hundred stories for them, with more than two hundred of them appearing on their front page.
To say his stories ran the range from national events to more routine happenings in everyday life would be a huge understatement.
On Sept. 11, 2001, he wrote stories from rural Pennsylvania on the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, a doomed flight where several heroic passengers thwarted terrorist hijackers who were less than minutes away from crashing the plane into the US Capitol in Washington DC.
He also wrote stories from rural Pennsylvania on the rescue of nine coal miners who were trapped underground in a flooded mine for more 72 hours.
When not telling stories worthy of national attention, Gibber told humorous stories on life in the small towns in Western Pennsylvania. He once told the story of a bulldozer that was stolen and then “chased” by the police. He opened one story with “Should the question arise, the answer is yes, indeed, you can get your arm hopelessly stuck in a prison toilet.”
Ironically, Gobber took up reporting as an afterthought after serving as a political cartoonist for a college newspaper. Following graduation, his political cartoons were syndicated nationally.
Despite award winning success as a political cartoonist, Gibber became a reporter because in his view, “cartooning was not really work.”
Sadly, in the prime of his career at age 49 he had a massive heart attack and died.
Following his reporting on the coal mine rescue, Gibber was set to accept his third Sigma Delta Chi Award from The Society of Professional Journalists. This award recognizes excellence in journalism. His untimely death occurred shortly before an event where he was to receive it. It was the last formal recognition he received as a storyteller.
I sometimes wonder how he would have reacted to the Post Gazette’s reporting his death to their readers. They wrote, “We’ve lost a person of depth and a journalist of range. We and his family are the poorer, but so, too, is everybody who reads the Post-Gazette day by day. They also wrote “People in the newsroom wondered where he found all those stories, where he found time to write them and how he wrote them so well.”
My thought is he would have been flattered, but not overly impressed.
Gibber was never interested in fame, fortune, awards, or recognition.
About his storytelling, Gibber once said, “In the end the biggest honor is, if a bit of a story is quoted over a breakfast table, becomes fodder at a lunch counter, or stays with a reader – maybe emotionally, maybe as news they need – after the papers been tucked into the recycling bin.”
RIP my friend. You will always be remembered by those who knew you and those who read your stories as an extremely gifted storyteller who produced stories that stick.
David Reel is a public affairs/public relations consultant who serves as a trust advisor on strategy, advocacy, and media matters who lives in Easton.