By Bill Tammeus
From the time Dave Lieber first showed up at a National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference – in 1993 in Portland – wishing he were a columnist, he has been an indispensable source of NSNC’s energy, innovative ideas, and inspiration.
Which makes him an obvious selection to receive the society’s Legacy Award.
Although not yet a columnist in 1993, Dave was working for the Philadelphia Inquirer when he joined the NSNC. But before long he took his many talents to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and, more recently, to the Dallas Morning News , where he currently serves as the paper’s full-time Watchdog columnist in between roughly 100 speaking gigs a year.
There’s not enough space on the whole Internet to name all the ways he has been vital to the work of the NSNC, but the one role he has worked hard and successfully to avoid is president. A few examples of his society contributions: He was conference chair for the 2005 gathering in Grapevine, Texas; has been active with development of the NSNC website; served as a member of the NSNC board for years; has written a column for The Columnist newsletter forever; and was deeply involved in the founding of the NSNC Education Foundation and its annual auction, for which he’s often served as auctioneer. At several annual conferences he’s been a featured speaker about writing and public speaking, and often has spent his own money to support NSNC projects. There’s more, but you get the picture.
It was pretty clear from Dave’s earliest days in the organization that he would be a dynamo. Right after joining he asked me (I was president then) if I had some ideas or projects he could work on. (Hot damn, I thought, an actual volunteer.) I told him I’d been thinking that NSNC should create a National Columnists Day, but that I hadn’t had a chance to do anything about that yet.
Dave took the idea and ran with it, recommending, after some research, that we adopt April 18, the date of the 1945 World War II death of our patron saint, Ernie Pyle. The board approved exactly that and today everybody in America celebrates that day by taking a columnist to lunch (except for the parsimonious jerks who don’t).
Dave has pushed NSNC members to use social media and shown them how. He’s insisted that they leverage their column writing to become public speakers and authors of books (he’s written a stack of them). He’s shown how to use a column to promote worthy charities (he even created one) and to point out terrible customer service given by all kinds of companies. If you run a business, you don’t want Dave Lieber to find out that you’re fleecing customers or not responding to their needs.
Even though I myself got the Legacy Award a couple of years back, I worry that giving them out may lead the recipient to think that he or she is finished working on behalf of the NSNC. With Dave, the Yankee Cowboy, as he calls himself, I’m not worried about that at all. I’m more worried that he’s still got five or eight big NSNC projects in mind for the rest of us to work on. It’s hard to say no to Lieber.
But whatever projects they are, they’ll be worth doing.
Bill Tammeus, a past NSNC president, is a former columnist for The Kansas City Star. He now writes his daily “Faith Matters” blog. He also writes columns for The Presbyterian Outlook, The National Catholic Reporter and Flatland, KCPT-TV’s digital magazine. He’s won numerous awards, including from the NSNC and the American Academy of Religion, and is the author of six books, most recently The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. Between them, he and his wife Marcia have six children and eight grandchildren.