Kari Borgen has been my boss for 19 years, but that doesn’t seem especially important to me.
Kari has also been my friend for 19 years, and that matters to me a great deal indeed.
The position of boss has much in common, of course, with the position of mother-in-law. Both are the butt of enough jokes to fill a shelf with books. Neither frequently occupies the same sentence as “friend.”
I am fortunate that none of the stereotypical complaints directed at bosses (and mothers-in-law) applies to my experience.
And so I was crestfallen as I sat in a chair opposite Kari’s desk, a seat where I have spent many dozens of hours debating editorial topics and kicking around story ideas and sometimes chuckling over the Duck-Beaver rivalry, and listened as she told me she had taken a job as publisher for The Daily Astorian in Astoria.
My sadness, though, was the variety that’s unique to situations when you’re simultaneously happy for a friend but also chagrined to learn that your relationship, one you’ve long cherished for its consistency, will soon change.
That word, consistency, is the first word that occurred to me when someone asked me how I reacted to Kari’s imminent departure.
Yet I felt compelled to explain that I wasn’t referring solely, or even largely, to the length of my tenure working for Kari.
What I meant, in the main, is how much I value her friendship, and how much I have appreciated, over almost two decades, knowing that I could always rely on her good counsel and her support.
Those are vital traits for bosses and for friends, but I think they are especially so in the newspaper business.
To be credible to its readers, and to truly serve its community, a newspaper must publish without partiality the information it gathers. This inevitably angers people.
I can’t overestimate how much comfort I derived from having Kari available to discuss difficult topics. Nor did I ever need to wonder whether she would defend my decisions.
Which is to say that Kari was a wonderful boss.
But as I noted at the start, it’s not the boss I’ll miss anything like as much as the friend.
I don’t mean to imply that Kari was less effective as a manager because she was congenial with her employees, the way parents can sometimes fail their children if they’re too lenient in matters of discipline.
What I mean is that she accomplished a feat that seems to me vastly more difficult than simply supervising a staff. Kari did that job extremely well. But I always felt that if I needed to talk with her as a friend rather than as an employee, I could walk into her office (the door was rarely closed) feeling confident that when I walked out, I would feel better about whatever had been troubling me.
If that doesn’t serve as the definition of a friend, then it might be that I’ve never understood what the word means.
About a year after Kari was hired as the Herald’s publisher, I went through a divorce. It was an unpleasant period for me, as such events typically are, but Kari was as gracious as I could have hoped in allowing me to concentrate on my personal life rather than my job for a couple weeks when I most needed to.
The years since have passed with a smooth, somehow terrible obstinacy that muddles the memory and too often transforms the meaningful into the banal. But my gratitude for Kari’s consideration has only grown, sweetened by the sprinkling of nostalgia.
Our friendship was fostered in part by our common interests. Hallie, the older of Kari’s two daughters, was a classmate of my older daughter, Rheann, in the Baker High School Class of 2009. We shared more than a few rueful chuckles about the travails of teenagers.
And Kari knew I would always be interested in hearing what her husband, Kerry, was up to with his bulldozer.
However much we try to pretend otherwise, jobs, for most of us, occupy a considerable portion of our lives. It strikes me as an immense blessing that for the greater part of my time at the Herald — I’ll finish my 25th year here next week — I was privileged to call Kari Borgen my boss. Not that she ever insisted on, or even mentioned, the use of such deferential terms.
The months and the years will pass, of course, and someday I’ll read these words with the same slight sense of disorientation as when I read the news story I wrote in 1998 when Kari was hired as the Herald’s publisher. Time can do that, can leave us a trifle dizzy no matter how solidly our feet are planted.
But about one thing I am as sure as I can be.
Never will I walk past Kari’s office, no matter who is sitting behind the desk, without feeling a twinge of melancholy about who is not.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.