Those of us who were fortunate to know Margaret “Peggy” Gibbons were shocked to learn last week that the longtime leader of the Montgomery County press corps passed away - just months after her position was eliminated, a victim of downsizing in the newspaper industry.
|Margaret "Peggy" Gibbons/Submitted Photo|
Having worked side by side for 28 years with the woman who was known as “The Bureau,” her death prompted a rush of emotions and a flood of memories, too many to count or share here.
When I arrived on the courthouse scene as a fledgling reporter with only one year of experience in 1990, I was initially intimidated by the grande dame of the press corps and her sometimes gruff exterior. Her reputation was that she was the one who would get the scoops and knew everything about everybody.
But I studied her and her methods and learned so much about this profession and I will be eternally grateful to “The Bureau,” who as it turns out, I would learn, had the kindest of hearts underneath all that boldness. If she respected you and trusted you, you were fortunate to become her friend.
Peggy's trademark giggle that would erupt when a humorous encounter occurred with a subject or when an outrageous, inappropriate headline appeared in the paper, was a ray of light in the windowless, bowels of the courthouse basement that she called home for all those years. We laughed often.
Peggy was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave in the evening, consistent dedication to her craft. She is the only one I knew who each day would meticulously cut her clips from the newspaper, tape them to florescent paper and file them away - for safe keeping, for future reference, the keeper of the record.
|Montgomery County Courthouse|
In between assignments, the woman who appeared tough to the outside world, showed her softer side when she talked about her family, especially her nieces and nephews, who she adored.
And Peggy had "affectionate" names for all of the new reporters - and there were dozens - who passed through the courthouse press room during her four decades. They ranged from "The Bim" to "Hansel and Gretel." No one was offended, because if Peggy had a nickname for you, it meant you had won her over.
I was at times addressed as, "You Toad," but more frequently I was known as “Boy Hessler” to Peggy, right up until the last day she spent in the courthouse. But I was not permitted to address her as “girl” or “Gal Gibbons,” as I would sometimes respond just to get a rise and a scowl out of her.
|"Peggy" Gibbons/ Times Herald "Courthouse Hill" Column Photo|
“I am a woman," she would quip as she promptly set me straight on the subject. At a loss for words, I never had a quick comeback for Peggy’s zingers.
Peggy always had the upper hand, whether she was addressing a colleague or grilling one of the subjects she was writing about.
Initially, we worked as competitors, I was with The Mercury and Peg was with the Times Herald. Later we worked as a team when The Mercury and Times Herald merged under the same news company. We became competitors again when Peggy went to work for The Intelligencer several years ago.
Whether as teammates or as competitors, during the nearly three decades we shared space in the press room, Peggy and I were usually side by side covering trials or press conferences.
While I never confessed to Peggy that she was a mentor, she knew it. That brings me to my favorite memory.
Over the years, judges, politicians, lawyers and courthouse workers would see us in the hallways or stop by the press room and say to me, in Peggy’s presence, of course, “Peggy taught you everything you know.” I would pretend to balk, stomp my feet in fake defiance and attempt to deny it.
Peggy’s classic response: “They brought me a boy and I made him a man.”
Laughter, naturally, ensued. Peggy was pleased with herself and as usual, I never mastered a comeback to that.
Now, her desk sets empty and in the days since her passing there is a hole in my heart as I look in that direction of the press room. Things will never be the same here without “The Bureau.”
But rest assured, we will never forget Peggy.
Those who pass through the press room in the days and years ahead surely will hear endless stories about “The Bureau" and what she meant to us, an icon in the world of local journalism. One of a kind.
My colleague Jim Melwert, of KYW News radio, and I, who are the sole remaining full-time occupants of the press room, will make sure of that.
“The Bureau” will live on.