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A cloud of black smoke pouring up from the Jemez Mountains caught my attention 10 years ago.
I was looking for the next thing to do in my life. A fun, 20-year escapade in film and video as a producer-writer seemed to be winding down.
Swinging from vine to vine for the next project seemed to work for a quite awhile.
I got to travel around the world and made films for the Smithsonian Institution and PBS, explored the Maya jungles and covered the First Intifada in the Gaza Strip.
But the day came when health insurance and steady work seemed like a better idea.
Journalism had been a missed calling for me. It seemed like a low-tech version of the image gathering and information synthesizing business I pursued in Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe, but actually there was a lot more to it than that.
An ad in the paper led me to the Los Alamos Monitor not long after the smoke cleared on the Hill.
The time after the Cerro Grande Fire was an ordeal for the town as many homes had to be rebuilt and there was a great deal of stress and dislocation.
But even more than I suspected, it was the beginning of very interesting times, not only in the community but at the laboratory that makes the town go round.
After an initial period of covering the county government, I became the assistant editor, which at that time was synonymous with covering the laboratory.
One of my first assignments was attending the final day of the Wen Ho Lee trial in Albuquerque in September 2000.
That’s when Federal Judge James A. Parker offered his famous apology to Lee for his long period of solitary confinement. I remember writing three stories for the paper for the next day.
As the next few years swept by, the lab had four directors, Browne, Nanos, Kuckuck and Anastasio, compared to five directors during the first 50 years.
Under Nanos, Los Alamos National Laboratory had its Captain Queeg moment. You remember the captain in Herman Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny,” talking hysterically about a quart of strawberries missing from the ice box.
In a similar set of circumstances, chaos visited the laboratory and a lengthy, highly visible shutdown took place, which in hindsight was probably a very big miscalculation and waste of money.
Many lab people say to this day that good and necessary things came out of that.
It didn’t stop revelations of a series of what were called “poor business practices,” followed by another rash of security slips, leading up to the laboratory’s profound realization that national secrets, including the jewels themselves, could be copied on thumb drives.
As bad as things got, the cure was almost always worse.
Brilliant people left. Many equally brilliant hunkered down and kept shining.
But somehow, through thick and thin, the lab prospered or at least held its own as the country flourished and then crashed during this crazy, terror-tormented time.
In recent years the lab’s flat budget became a pretty good “new raise” by the standards of many other sectors of the economy.
When the lab’s contract was competed and a for-profit partnership took over management, the county government, through no particular merit of its own, inherited a windfall of many millions of dollars of new annual revenues.
Whatever else one might say, the lab and the community have been wonderful subjects. There has been no shortage of secrets or surprises or new wrinkles on the same old story.
The personalities have been fascinating and the people dearly human. The material, rarely fully divulged, has been as challenging and inspiring as anything a journalist could ask for.
By now, you may have guessed what is coming next.
These will be among my last sentences as editor of the Monitor. I want to thank everyone, especially my colleagues and friends for their support and a few detractors for their forbearance and to express gratitude to so many of you for sharing your lives and interests with me.
It’s been great and gone by too quickly, but as they say in Jamaica, “Man free!”
It’s time to go.
Publisher’s note: The Monitor has been a much
richer and more robust newspaper thanks to Roger’s countless contributions during the last 10 years. The entire staff joins me in thanking Roger for all of his hard work in helping move this news operation forward.