With the wisdom, humility and grace that shined through every column she wrote, Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Schmich bowed out Saturday after 36 years with the Chicago Tribune.
In posting a pitch-perfect farewell to readers, Schmich joined the exodus of marquee talent to opt for voluntary buyouts under Alden Global Capital, the newsroom-slashing hedge fund that acquired Tribune Publishing.
Other columnists who announced their exits in recent days include John Kass, Eric Zorn, Heidi Stevens and Steve Chapman.
“After 41 years in the newspaper business, I’m taking a buyout and leaving my Tribune job,” Schmich wrote. (Here is the link.) “Forty-one years may sound like a millennium to anyone under 40, but to me, at 67, it seems about as long as it takes to say ‘abracadabra.’”
Schmich had been among the early voices to warn Chicagoans about the consequences of an Alden takeover. In a plea for a benevolent billionaire to rescue the paper in 2019, she wrote: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make your mark on Chicago history, to make yourself rich in honor, to be — no exaggeration — a hero,” she wrote. “But hurry. History won’t wait.”
History didn’t wait and now Schmich has left too.
A native of Savannah, Georgia, and graduate of Pomona College in Claremont, California, Schmich joined the Tribune in 1985 after working for the Orlando Sentinel and the Peninsula Times Tribune in Palo Alto, California. She was named a metro columnist in 1992.
In 2012 Schmich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary “for her wide range of down-to-earth columns that reflect the character and capture the culture of her famed city.” In 2017 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Headline Club (and she’s been on every list of The Most Powerful Women in Chicago Journalism ever posted).
Among other claims to fame, Schmich wrote Brenda Starr, the long-running comic strip about an intrepid female reporter, from 1985 to 2010. A 1997 column presented as a hypothetical commencement speech (and featuring the advice to “wear sunscreen”) became a viral email phenomenon and the subject of a book, song and numerous parodies.
“I’ve never written a column that I didn’t wish was better, including this one,” Schmich wrote in her farewell. “But I’ve done it as well as I knew how, never forgetting, even when I cursed the constant deadlines or felt bad that I couldn’t answer all the email, that there was nothing better than being granted this education and this connection with the world, with all of you.”