When young women pass away too early, the song so often played is Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.” But to those of us who knew Jenny at The Hatchet, the analogy of her as a submissive candle being swayed by another force could not be more ill-fitting.
While no particular song comes to mind, there is a more appropriate analogy for the girl who worked with us for almost a year, an analogy that matches her personality so well and pays her a compliment of the highest regard. Jenny Dierdorff, our colleague and friend, was a thoroughbred.
She was strong and determined, yet beautiful and graceful. She combined a ferocity in her work with a subtle elegance that was matched by few and admired by all.
When relaxed and sitting still, she was easygoing and charming, vulnerable and gentle. But once she started working, once her mind and muscles were set to a task, there were only two choices for everyone else – either follow her lead or get run over. And that’s exactly what her position demanded.
While all of us have our own duties and challenges, it takes a special breed to be production manager. You act as the paper’s focal point, the only person who deals with editors, photographers and the business staff. There is a constant pull from three different directions and an unparalleled pressure to please everyone while managing egos and an always-approaching deadline.
Simply put, it’s the most difficult job on staff, and few women or men are capable of dealing with its rigors. But Jenny was more than capable.
While most people work in production for months before becoming manager, Jenny took the job with barely any training and became the cornerstone of The Hatchet. She was feisty, confident and brutally honest, and that combination helped fuse three departments into one newspaper. And somewhere in that process, she also became part of our family.
For some, working at The Hatchet is just a job and remains only that. Often times, those people end up quitting. Earlier this year, Jenny phoned our editor in chief to express her own frustrations. She was thinking of quitting.
But the very next day, she showed up for work and did her job as well as any time before. While she would complain many more times about the long hours and low pay that rewards workers here, she never once mentioned quitting again.
We’d like to think she started to realize that this isn’t just a newspaper. It’s a family. And in a remarkably short period of time, Jenny became one of our family’s most integral members. We joked with her. She joked back. We yelled at her. She yelled back. And we cared about her. Just like a family does.
Unfortunately, we also started taking Jenny for granted because of our human nature and her remarkable consistency. The thought that she wouldn’t be here one day, the thought that we wouldn’t be able to say good-bye at the end of the year, just never occurred to us.
Now she’s gone. Now we can’t show her the appreciation she deserved. Now we can’t tell her we miss her or love her. We are only left with unspoken feelings and an empty chair that taunts us with her absence.
But when people pass away, all they can really hope for is that others remember them, and here again, the analogy holds true.
Because for those of you who have witnessed a thoroughbred in person, and for those of you who have marveled at that stunning combination of strength and beauty, determination and grace, you know there is one certainty amongst everything else.
Once you’ve felt the power of a thoroughbred in your presence, you will never forget it, and you will rarely experience anything comparable. For those of us at The Hatchet, that just about sums up Jenny Dierdorff, our colleague and dear friend. We miss you.