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Susan Reimer signs off

Editor's note: After 36 years at The Sun, Susan Reimer is leaving to join her husband in retirement. We wish her well.  

I stumbled into journalism. I wanted to be an actress, but I didn't have the nerve so I took to writing about theater for the college newspaper instead.

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Without my realizing that it would, journalism became the most powerful and enduring influence in my life. It is my religion and my genesis. I am who I am because of all the things that have happened to me while I was chasing the news.

Miss America

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When I worked for the student newspaper at Ohio University, The Post, I wrote that the reigning Miss America, an OU alum, did indeed wear jeans, stayed with her boyfriend on visits to Columbus and once shared marijuana brownie recipes with her sorority sisters, contrary to her public statements.

It was the '70s. We all did that stuff. And I found that she did, too, and I reported it.

The story ran on the morning of her visit to campus, and one of the bigwigs in the school's journalism program called me in and told me he would see to it that I would never work in this business.

Taking chances

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I interviewed with Richard Mellon Scaife for a job at his newspaper, then the Greensburg Tribune-Review (now the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), along with a male colleague from The Post. At the conclusion of the interviews he elected to hire the guy. I asked what had tipped the scales and he said we were identically qualified, but the position might eventually lead to management and, of course, they had to go with the guy.

When the guy turned him down, Scaife, who died last year, offered me the job. I said, "No thanks. I'll take my chances."

No gun

My boss at the Associated Press in Pittsburgh once told me that he would send me on an assignment where I might be killed but not on one where I might be raped. I asked if I had any say in the matter.

Our office was in the equivalent of Baltimore's Block, and we had to walk to a porn shop every night to pick up the early edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. My boss told me he wanted me to buy a gun for my own protection, but he didn't tell that to the guys, who also went to the porn shop for the papers. I didn't buy the gun.

'Little girl'

I spent a week in hiding because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was looking for me. They wanted my fingerprints for exclusionary purposes because I'd taken the phone call to the AP bureau that led me to find the letter from the Weather Underground taking credit for bombing the Gulf Building in Pittsburgh.

I ran to the scene to cover the explosion only to have a police officer ask, "What are you doing here, little girl?" It worked out. My co-worker used the distraction of my presence to sneak onto an elevator with firemen and ride to the blown-out floor.

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Locker room talk

A male sportswriter once told me that a woman couldn't cover sports because she'd never felt the smack of the ball in the glove. I grew up before Title IX, and I'd never felt the smack of the ball in the glove, but I covered sports for 14 years at the Baltimore Sun.

Pitcher Scott McGregor refused to answer my questions because he didn't think I belonged in a locker room. Colts running back Curtis Dickey, seeing that I was pregnant while on that beat, said something so foul to me that I cannot repeat it here.

Angry readers

During my time as a family-life columnist, a reader wrote and said she hoped that my husband would walk out on me, that my teen-aged daughter would get pregnant and that my son would get busted for selling drugs. Well, that's the trifecta, I thought.

During my time as a national-affairs columnist on these pages, I have been accused of being a shameless whore for Bill Clinton, even though I wrote a column minutes after his Monica Lewinsky press conference in which I said, "That man absolutely did it."

And I broke the Internet at The Sun when I wrote, immediately after John McCain chose a running mate, that he was pandering to women disappointed that Hillary Clinton wouldn't be president by choosing as his running mate an unqualified PTA mom from Alaska — Sarah Palin.

Then and since, angry readers have regularly written to say that I am fat. Like that's the best way to shout down a woman with strong opinions.

A public trust

I met my future husband at the other end of a phone while taking results from a golf tournament. My son was a newborn when the Colts left for Indianapolis. My daughter was just months old when Len Bias died of an overdose after being drafted out of Maryland by the Celtics.

I have written about tapping maple trees for syrup, daylilies, sailboat races, dying veterans and a young girl who was bullied to death. And much, much more.

Columns I wrote caused laws to change and important people to change their minds. They have inspired readers to send money to a family who lost their infant child and their home in a fire, and to send checks to buy grocery store gift cards for poor seniors at Christmas. And one column inspired a reader to pick up the tab for repainting the entire Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park.

I am a member of the Woodward and Bernstein generation of journalists. Kent State happened during the spring of my freshman year in college. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon the summer after I graduated. I earned a degree in mistrust and cynicism, with a minor in believing I could change things. Perfect credentials for a journalist.

I have worked under the guidance of editors John Carroll, Bill Marimow and Marty Kaiser, who have a boatload of Pulitzer Prizes among them, and I have worked with reporters who would be in the Hall of Fame if we had one. John Carroll once said that journalists believe they are custodians of a public trust, answerable only to the public. I have been one of them.

Speak up

But it's time to move on. I have worked with plenty of old bats in this newsroom, women who have stayed too long at the party, and I never wanted to be one of them. Men become distinguished, women become irrelevant. Leave before they start whispering that you've lost a step, I say.

And I have lost my patience with fools, especially politicians. I figure I am one smart-aleck Tweet away from getting fired. Get out before you self-destruct, I say.

One last thought before I go. You, faithful readers, have comforted me so often by saying that I was speaking for you, saying what you were thinking before you found the words.

But it has always been up to you to speak, to speak the truth as you see it and feel it. To your sons, to your daughters, to your friends, your worst enemies and those with power.

Speak up. Don't wait for me or anyone else to do it for you. It is too important.

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You can find Susan Reimer on Facebook and Twitter. She says she still has a lot to say.

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