A letter from a reader about Remembering Larry DuPraz

February 14, 2007:

Molding Journalists

Larry DuPraz, the beloved flat-topped, cigar-chomping curmudgeon whose critical eye refined six decades of journalism at The Daily Princetonian, died Christmas Eve morning in Massachusetts. He was 87 and suffered from heart disease. DuPraz joined the Prince in 1946 as a typesetter, forging the words of student reporters in molten lead with an aging linotype machine. He soon became compositor, assuming responsibility for getting the paper printed each night. – The Daily Princetonian, Dec. 26, 2006.

Sixty years.

In the newspaper business, you “put the paper to bed” every night. In the old days, the days when Larry DuPraz first plied his trade, you literally placed the leaden forms on the flat bed of the press. It was the penultimate step of publishing. Then, you push the button and the presses run.

Larry put The Daily Princetonian to bed thousands of times over his long career. It would, however, be a mistake to think of that as his job.

What Larry really did, for 60 years, was create journalists. His comments could burn like the hot lead in the linotypes. But you need a little heat to mold that ugly lump of metal into a good story.

When you first met Larry DuPraz as a freshman reporter, he would squint at you through his horn-rimmed glasses, brush cut bristling, wreathed in the smoke of his Tiparillo. You knew, right then and there, he was sizing you up, like an old toreador confronting a young, inexperienced bull.

It wasn’t long before he would plant a barb or two, just to see if you were made of the right stuff. He was politically incorrect before political correctness was invented. But he was an equal opportunity insulter, and it didn’t take long for his tender targets to recognize that this was his way of puncturing egos. Reporters need thick skins.

Larry was always teaching. To generations of students, he was the only professor of journalism they ever knew. But he never lectured at length. You learned, one paragraph at a time. The paragraph usually began: “Why the hell …” Reporters need to deal with tough editors.

One of his favorite roles was devil’s advocate. He loved to challenge your thinking. If you had a favorite layout for a page, he would moan, “Not this again …” If you liked a lot of feature stories, he would wonder aloud what happened to hard news stories. If you ran a lot of pictures, he would note the dearth of good copy. Reporters and editors need to avoid ruts.

Like the presses, when Larry “pushed the button” on a graduating class, they ran. Larry’s graduates went on to serve on major media throughout America – both on the news and business sides of those organizations. They won Pulitzers and many other prizes. Any journalism school would be proud to claim credit for the reporters and editors Larry “trained.”

Most graduates of the DuPraz School of Journalism pursued distinguished careers in other fields where Larry’s voice continued to echo in their ears: Do you have your facts straight, young lady? Did you ask the right questions, buster? What did you miss? Where the hell did you learn to write?

Mostly, he taught about giving … and giving a damn. Larry cherished three things above all else: his family, his volunteer fire department, and his Daily Princetonian. And, depending on circumstances, not necessarily in that order. At his funeral at the end of December, his grandson told the story of how, while fighting a fire, Larry had fallen through the roof of a house. Yet he didn’t even bother to tell his beloved spouse, Nora. He had simply come home from the fire, showered, and dashed off to the Prince.

He made you feel like you were part of his family. If you needed a friend or a surrogate parent or just somebody to share a beer, Larry was the kindest curmudgeon on the planet. There was a ton of tenderness behind his growls.

He often continued the relationships with Prince alumni beyond graduation. He was a major hub on the Internet, filling e-mail boxes with patriotic messages (he had served with distinction on a bomber squadron during World War II) and even an off-color joke or two. For 27 years, he sponsored a cookout in his backyard for Prince alumni at every Reunions. It’s a tradition that the Prince carries on to this day.

Like the newspaper he loved, Larry was an institution. He always seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of energy and good humor, even years after he “retired.” He had done his job so well for so long that, at some level, we all believed he would just go on forever, like the tigers in front of Nassau Hall.

In a sense, Larry has proven even more durable. Every day, there is another Prince, a fresh memorial to the man who had such a profound impact on the newspaper and the lives of all its alumni.

Editor’s note: Greg Conderacci ’71, was editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian and considers himself fortunate to have been the object of Larry DuPraz’s good-natured scorn. A shorter version of this letter was published in the Feb. 14, 2007, issue of PAW.



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