Columns » Between The Lines

A farewell — unless he changes his mind

Between the Lines

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Dammit to hell, Rich Tosches. Why have you put me in this position, doing your dirty work for you?

How is it that I have to inform your readers this way about your departure as a columnist for the Independent?

What will it take to change the circumstances, erase the chalkboard, call this whole deal an April Fool's joke (since April 1 is your birthday), and start over once again with another clean slate?

We know that answer. It's too late to turn back. So here goes.

Richard M. Tosches, who came to this town 21 years ago looking for a good place to raise his kids — Los Angeles wasn't, though writing columns and features at the L.A. Times was a good gig — probably has written his last regular column for a Colorado Springs newspaper.

"Ranger Rich" actually wrote that final piece for the Indy's Jan. 15 issue, giving no hint that it might be his swan song. He took some shots at his latest favorite target, Mayor Steve Bach, ending this way: "I sincerely hope he isn't mad at me for occasionally making fun of him. Although I'm looking out my window right now and see thousands of orange highway cones and dozens of massive concrete barriers blocking my driveway. What the heck is the Chris Christie Construction Company?"

Making us laugh, right to the end.

But soon after that came the final unraveling. He'd already talked about losing his passion. "It's just not as fun anymore," he said.

Then his father died.

Longtime readers knew about Rich's dad, Nick Tosches, an old-school, small-town newspaper editor in Massachusetts. In recent years, Rich used his columns to lament Nick's slow, tortured slide into dementia. What you didn't know was how many times Rich and his wife, Susie Burghart, dropped everything to fly back to New England and deal with all that.

After Nick passed away in early February, Rich gave the eulogy, saying farewell to his father before family and friends.

Rich came home from that and eventually decided he was ready to end this chapter as well. He considered doing a goodbye column, then figured what the heck. I'm guessing he didn't want to say anything he might regret. But even more, it wouldn't be funny. Even sad funny.

So here we are. I volunteered to deliver Rich's Indy eulogy, because he deserves it. For more than two decades, nobody in the Colorado Springs media has made more people laugh, more people angry and more people offended. Readers have loved his sharp-edged wit, his total lack of reverence, his zest for taking on public officials and butchering sacred cattle, his willingness to laugh at himself.

As a fellow columnist, I valued him more. I've long believed the best columnists, who build and maintain their audience over the long term, literally shape a newspaper's personality and its relationship with readers. They also bring those readers back, time after time, looking for more.

For years, Rich used his pulpit in the Gazette to drive the community nuts. He targeted mayors, The Broadmoor, the military, Focus on the Family, Ted Haggard and others, with no holds barred. When the Gazette finally decided to stop tolerating him, he quickly jumped ship and worked for the Rocky Mountain News, then later the Denver Post. But he still was living here, and his cheeky, limit-stretching style made him a perfect match for the Independent, first from April 2004 to June 2005, then again starting in October 2007.

He never has let up on elected officials, while entertaining readers with his escapades to the zoo, reuniting with friends and so much more. He also relished making himself look silly, which he could do with ease.

We could go on and on, especially with our shared experiences. We spent nearly a month together in a house with others covering the Summer Olympics in 1996, but we agreed long ago that what happened in Atlanta should stay in Atlanta. We also sat beside each other for a year (1999-2000) at the Gazette; for me, it was like sitting next to Robin Williams, as he constantly tried out his jokes on me first. And then, for most of his final Indy stint, we continually bounced ideas off each other until the best ones stuck.

I've never enjoyed working with anyone more. But now he'd rather focus more on his weekly Denver Post columns, and he wants to write a book of funny stories about golf. (Can't wait for that.)

Right now, he's enjoying every opportunity to watch his youngest son's senior season playing baseball for Regis University in Denver.

Something tells me that he still might be willing to sneak back onto these pages at some point in the future, if only for old times' sake. But then again, maybe not.

"Not unless it's fun again," he'd probably say. I wanted him to talk more for this piece, but he refused, saying simply, "Just have fun."

Sorry, Rich. Saying goodbye to your writing could never be fun, and that goes for the many thousands of your Indy readers as well.

We'll keep trying to bring you back, like it or not.

routon@csindy.com

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