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A reporter’s perspective

  • Retired Greenfield Recorder reporter Richie Davis with his new book, “Inner Landscapes: True Tales from Extraordinary Lives.”  Submitted photo

  • In “Inner Landscapes,” former Greenfield Recoder reporter revisits some of his favorite stories from his four-decade career with the newspaper.

  • In “Inner Landscapes,” former Greenfield Recoder reporter revisits some of his favorite stories from his four-decaded career with the newspaper.



For the Bulletin
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Richie Davis spent much of the past four decades talking with people throughout Franklin County and beyond who had stories to tell — and he helped them tell those stories so that others wouldn’t forget them.

Davis, who lives in Montague, retired from his position as senior/regional reporter at The Greenfield Recorder more than a year ago, and has since compiled those stories in a book, “Inner Landscapes: True Tales from Extraordinary Lives,” which can be found on his website and in local book stores as they re-open during the pandemic.

Haley’s of Athol published the book, which includes forewords by former colleagues Denny Wilkins and Adam Orth.

“These stories were buried in bound volumes of the Recorder,” Davis said. “There are so many lives in those volumes. I chose to republish some of them in my book. They were too inspirational not to.”

Davis describes many of the people he wrote about over his 40 years at the local newspaper, calling them “incredible characters” who are “living their lives all around us.” It wasn’t easy to choose which stories to include in his book, he says, because they all meant something special to him.

“I knew I wanted to narrow the book to people stories, but there were just so many to choose from,” he said. “There were so many real and engaging people. Some in agriculture, some fighting injustices, some fighting against attacks on the environment, some just living their lives.”

“Some of the stories are depressing, while others are truly uplifting,” he added. “I wanted to find balance.”

Davis, who’s also a musician and artist, worked with Recorder photographer Paul Franz to find photos for the book.

One story that immediately came to mind was about Jessica Murrow, who lost her husband on 9/11. “They had been estranged and were just coming back together when she lost him,” he said.

Then there was former Greenfield Department of Public Works employee John Bean, 66, who committed suicide by jumping off the French King Bridge in 2016.

“The paper rarely wrote about suicides,” he said. “But John was well known and was starting to show signs of dementia. It was emotionally difficult for him. I was able to present his suicide in a way that didn’t sugarcoat it, but wasn’t morbid or too intimate, either.”

Another profile was of Juanita Nelson, an ardent pacifist, war tax resister, civil rights activist and supporter of local organic agriculture who in 2015 died at age 91 in a local nursing home.

“I wrote about local people who spent their entire lives farming or fighting for what they believed in,” Davis said. “Most of the people I interviewed and wrote about didn’t take themselves too seriously, at least not as seriously as some of the rest of us took them.”

’It was always the people’

During his career, Davis wrote several times about some people included in his book, so as he chose certain stories, he used information from other articles and added to the pieces in “Inner Landscapes.”

Davis, who grew up on Long Island in New York state, says he wanted to go into advertising when he was a kid. But he started reading the New York Times when he was in junior high school and found reporters’ columns particularly appealing, which redirected his focus. “I decided that ... I wanted to tell the whole story, not the story that met someone else’s needs.”

He went on to study political science and journalism at SUNY Brockport in upstate New York, making a “conscious decision” to start at a small paper after graduation, a weekly where he worked for a few years.

Then, after interviewing at more than a dozen newspapers in New England, he took a job with the Recorder, never dreaming he’d end his career there. But he found community journalism much more interesting than he had imagined it might be.

“I covered West County and was blessed enough to create the energy and environmental beat,” he said. “I covered agriculture, nuclear issues, the gas pipeline and so much more. Then, I did some editing, but always wanted to go back to writing.”

Davis wrote numerous series for the newspaper, including one about the former Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and others about hazardous waste, yogurt, domestic violence and sexual assault, to name a few.

“It was always the people I loved writing about, though,” he said. “Long before I retired, I had decided I wanted to do a compilation of my work on people.

“Even now, more than a year after retiring, I’m always seeing stories,” he added. “There’s always something gnawing at me to get out of my car or off my bike and stop to talk with someone…. I like to show a person’s personality and character, but I also like to get to ‘why’ they are who they are.”

With his book complete, he’s now concentrating on music. A percussionist, Davis is drawn to Romany, Jewish, Balkan and Middle Eastern musical styles as well as jazz. He’s played in marching bands, on drum sets and on hand drums around the U.S. and beyond. He’s also been involved with choral singing and klezmer and has performed at coffeehouses, nightclubs, colleges, resorts — even at Carnegie Hall and during the 1993 U.S. presidential inauguration.

He also plans to return to learning piano.

Davis says he’ll continue to write, but probably will just do some journaling for a while as he focuses on his music. “This book was my legacy project,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll do another one.”

Because of the pandemic, Davis can’t do readings at the moment, but he decided to launch the book anyway. “It was time for me, and I believe it was time for the readers,” he said. “I don’t have to be out reading it or marketing it. I just want people to pick it up and enjoy stories they might remember reading in the paper in the past.”

Given the struggles of newspapers at the moment, including his old employer, he’s donating half of his initial royalties to the Recorder. “This is important to me, because it was the newspaper that allowed me to do these locally rooted, universal, amazing stories,” he said.

Anita Fritz can be reached at afritz@recorder.com and (413) 772-9591. “Inner Landscapes” is available at Boswell’s Books and Sawyer News, both in Shelburne Falls, World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield and Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, as well as on Davis’ website: richiedavis.net.