By Kevin Wilson
Ray Sullivan spent last week unpacking his Clovis office of countless memories of a life in journalism — one that started in junior high and only let him take detours before always drawing him back because, “I missed newspapers.”
The community around him has changed, with Cannon Air Force Base moving into a special operations mission, three different governors and three different presidents during his 14 years at the Clovis News Journal, the flagship paper of Clovis Media Inc., which includes properties in Portales and Tucumcari.
“I think all three papers are equal in their own right of our core products,” Sullivan said. “Our sister paper, Cannon Connections, has a place for both the civilian and military markets. I view all of them as children that I love. They each have their own distinction and you see that in the way we cover news in each community.”
His desk featured a computer and his mobile phone, both with bookmarks for the newspaper websites — which never existed in their current forms when he came to Clovis in late 2000 from Lima, Ohio, to take his first publishing job.
But the place he left Friday at age 66 still has many of its original charms. His office still gave a view of the family-owned office supply across the street, and his love for the news product never wavered.
“Opening up a paper is a great moment,” said Sullivan, “but the better moment is when you look at a story that sums up a person’s life, whether it’s what somebody wrote or it’s what somebody said and you had the privilege to be there to write it down and relay it to people.”
That’s what drew Sullivan, a native of Pueblo, Colo., to newspapers in the first place.
“There was a kid who did a column in one of my junior high papers,” Sullivan said. “He reported on who was talking with who or walking with who around the halls of the school, or who was chasing who through the lunchroom. I thought, ‘Boy, that’s cool,’ and you didn’t know who he was.”
The next half-century with newspapers took him through five states — Colorado, Idaho, California, Ohio and New Mexico — and provided both burnout and redemption.
After Sullivan got out of Vietnam — he joined the Marine Corps because it was closer than the Air Force office — he was twice pulled away from the journalism field. The first time, he was laid off from a small newspaper that folded, and he spent the next year-and-a-half selling cookware because he liked living in Grand Junction, Colo. It took him 10 years in journalism to make the same money again.
Then came a combination of burnout from 80-hour weeks in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and an opportunity with the Peace Corps. He needed to find balance in his life, and adding Bev as his life partner helped.
“We got together over dinner one night after I got out of the Peace Corps,” Sullivan said of Bev, who will retire from her pharmacy work this summer before the two move back to Colorado. “We just stayed in touch. We were both with other people. Five years later, we were both out of those relationships and I asked her to move to Colorado. She said OK.”
Bev flew out on a Friday the 13th with a black cat named George, and they were married the next year on a Saturday — also the 13th.
Marrying Bev is one of three successes Sullivan trumpets, the others being survival in Vietnam and his decision to quit drinking.
“I started drinking at age 12 as a caddy at the country club,” Sullivan said. “By the time I quit, it was my birthday, which is on New Year’s Eve. There are several I remember, and several I don’t.
“I had taken a year off (from drinking), and I wrote a column and put it in my newspaper as insurance I wouldn’t drink for a year. I said I wasn’t sure if I was an alcoholic or not. It was the Glenwood Post. It was my insurance I wouldn’t drink, because everyone around town knew who I was. I was the managing editor of the paper. We left four months later, and went to Colorado Springs. I kept that pledge. That Christmas Eve, a sister and one of her boys were killed by a drunken driver. Even I could see God’s hand in that.”
His life filled with other passions — supporting local charities and the military, and working to improve things even when it didn’t win popularity contests.
“Ray is always the one in the room that asks the question, usually the right question and sometimes the awkward question,” said Erinn Burch, United Way of Eastern New Mexico’s executive director. “He brings a humor and a perspective from the public. As a newspaper guy, he’s always interested in perception, so he asks how things will be perceived.”
Burch met Sullivan when he was on the committee that hired her in 2002, and she credits him with helping her and staff grow the charity from a middle-man operation to an agent for change in Roosevelt and Curry counties, with a 2-1-1 hotline and a functioning endowment program.
Ernie Kos, director of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce, met Sullivan when he was interviewing for the publisher position.
“My first impression was that I didn’t see him as a stereotypical publisher,” Kos said. “I didn’t see him in that light. My first impression was correct. I didn’t see him staying in his office and sitting at his computer.”
She credits Sullivan with helping sponsor numerous airmen at the base, and said he will have helped raise $60,000 for various community endeavors before he leaves Clovis this summer.
Whenever you enter Clovis, Kos said, the welcome sign you’ll see was paid for with funds he helped raise.
Sullivan said he can’t count the number of times he failed in his life, but noted even failures can be blessings. While in Vietnam, a rifle jammed. He stopped to unjam the gun, and was injured by shrapnel from a grenade explosion. It exploded where he would have reached had his gun worked.
He would have liked a new building in Clovis, or to grow the company’s interactive and video capabilities. He may dwell on those, as sure as he’ll miss newspapers again, but he realizes, “you always get a finite amount of time in a place.”
As he cleared out his office — adorned with guitars from the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, the copies of the first Saturday papers in Clovis and Portales and pictures of fair animals won at junior livestock auctions — he said the office’s most important thing couldn’t be seen. He called it the spirit of freedom.
“If America loses its understanding of the value and importance of information collected by people who have the goal of truth, not political favor or individual axes to grind, we will have lost freedom,” Sullivan said. “That’s what newspapers are about.”