Tom McNamee to retire as Sun-Times editorial page editor

Tom McNamee (Photo: WTTW/Chicago Tonight)

Tom McNamee, a pillar of Chicago journalism who rose from general assignment reporter to editorial page editor of the Sun-Times, is stepping down after four decades at the newspaper.

His retirement, effective in mid-October, was announced to the staff Monday by Steve Warmbir, interim editor-in-chief of the Sun-Times.

“I just feel it’s time,” McNamee, 67, told me. “I want to see who I am when I’m not doing this.

“I have loved being a Chicago reporter, especially at the Sun-Times. It’s the paper — along with the evil Trib — that I delivered when I was 12. And I want to see the Sun-Times go on and on and on. So many good people there. I have such respect for my colleagues. Our business is harder than ever and they just suck it up and take it on.”

A lifelong Chicagoan with degrees from Northern Illinois University and the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, McNamee joined the Sun-Times in 1982.

Except for a three-year stint as editor of North Shore magazine (when it was under the ownership of the Sun-Times’s parent company), McNamee worked for the newspaper as a reporter, assignment editor, Sunday editor and columnist. He was promoted to editorial page editor in 2008.

“I won the lottery being able to make a living as a Chicago news guy,” he said. “I knew it from the start and never stopped knowing it.”

As for his plans, McNamee said: “I have ideas about what I might do next, but I’m not sure. I might take my neighbor’s dog for a walk.”

In his email to staff Warmbir wrote: “To say we will miss Tom is a vast understatement. . . . I don’t know anyone who knows as much as he does about public policy and how this city runs, while being so humble at the same time. But after working nearly four decades with the Sun-Times and riding the highs and lows of that journey, he deserves to spend some quality time with his family.”

McNamee co-hosted a weekly radio show on WLS 890-AM for five years with Don Hayner, a former Sun-Times reporter who later became managing editor and editor-in-chief.

McNamee and Hayner also co-wrote three books about Chicago — Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names; The Metro Chicago Almanac: Fascinating Facts and Offbeat Offerings about the Windy City, and The Stadium: 1929-1994, The Official Commemorative History of the Chicago Stadium.

Here is the text of Warmbir’s email to the staff:

I have some staffing news to share. Editorial page editor Tom McNamee is closing the book on his Sun-Times career after nearly four decades with us. It’s hard to capture the scope and importance of Tom’s career here. He has done and meant so much to this newspaper, first as an excellent writer and reporter, then as one of the best editors the Sun-Times has ever had.

I can speak firsthand about Tom’s skills as an editor. He has this near magical gift where he can edit a writer’s copy in that writer’s voice, and if you’re not careful, you soon believe you crafted that marvelous phrase or transition in your copy, when in fact it’s the wizard behind the curtain, Tom McNamee.

Reporters were lucky to have Tom as the Sunday editor, and then editorial writers were fortunate to have Tom leading their section as editorial page editor. I once worked for Tom as one of his deputies and never learned more from an editor. When you work with someone who brings his or her A game to work every day, with rock solid integrity, it can only raise your own performance. As editorial page editor, Tom can incisively cut to the core of a complex issue like no one. And watching him skewer a blustering politician or local bigwig who didn’t have a mastery of the facts when they met with the editorial board was a masterclass in interviewing. It was also a lot of fun.

To say we will miss Tom is a vast understatement. We will miss his institutional knowledge and his expertise about all things Chicago. I don’t know anyone who knows as much as he does about public policy and how this city runs, while being so humble at the same time. But after working nearly four decades with the Sun-Times and riding the highs and lows of that journey, he deserves to spend some quality time with his family. We are working on how to celebrate Tom’s contributions before he leaves in mid-October. Please join me in wishing him the absolute best.