Tim Sullivan lands in Louisville: Describes his ‘George Bailey’ experience

It’s strange how things work out. What seemed to be the worst moment of Tim Sullivan’s career turned out to be one of the best.

A few weeks after his controversial dismissal as columnist of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sullivan has landed as the new columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

In an email to me, Sullivan writes about the entire experience. Later, he followed up in another email:

I hated to ramble on, but I think there’s a useful message in my experience — that the unknown is not quite as fearful as we might imagine.

No need to apologize. As any columnist knows, there’s nothing better than a good story.

Here’s Tim:

Being unemployed for the first time was initially unsettling — I barely slept the first week and lost seven pounds — but it turned out to be the most gratifying experience of my career. The response from friends, colleagues and ordinary readers was overwhelming and the job opportunities proved much more plentiful than I thought possible at age 57.

Some of this owes to the perception that I was a victim of integrity; that my firing was the result of stands taken in resistance to the political agenda of new management. I am inclined to think I have been given too much credit on that score; so much so that I drafted a book proposal with the working title, “The Accidental Martyr.”

The perception plainly worked to my benefit, though, and became so pervasive that the actor, Alec Baldwin, sent out a tweet recommending me to the New York Times on the basis of my “old school” sensibilities. Dave Kindred wrote a column about me that was so kind I would like it inscribed on my tombstone (though it might have to jump). I felt like George Bailey at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” — the richest man in town.

Within two or three weeks of the day I filed for unemployment benefits, I was in contact with seven papers about potential jobs or freelance opportunities. At the suggestion of Houston Chronicle Sports Editor Nick Mathews, I also dropped in on the APSE convention in Chicago on my way home from interviewing in Louisville.

The possibilities proved much more numerous than I had expected and both my appetite and lost weight returned (and then some).

Ultimately, the Courier-Journal proved the best fit for a variety of reasons — not the least of them the fortuitous timing of Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford leaving the paper for a local TV station within days of my dismissal. Louisville is a three-hour drive from my daughter at Ohio State, and closer still to Cincinnati, where I spent the 25 years preceding my California adventure. Louisville real estate is attractive and the region is familiar.

I spent 23 years as a resident of the Commonwealth, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and have covered 18 Kentucky Derbies and quite a lot of college basketball.

The best man at my wedding, Lonnie Wheeler, wrote a terrific book about Kentucky hoops called, “Blue Yonder.” I am re-reading it now as due diligence.

The strongest selling point, though, proved to be the people in charge at the Courier-Journal. Bennie Ivory, the executive editor, exudes old-school sensibilities and a commitment to the news that I have not always associated with Gannett papers. He ordered an additional seven pages to the paper to cover the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare — and did so without seeking permission from the publisher. That decision resonated deeply with me, as did the 10 Pulitzer prizes on the wall outside publisher Wes Jackson’s office.

Jackson, a former University of Kentucky football player, immediately disarmed me by demonstrating that he was too wide for the bathroom door built to a previous publisher’s specifications. The C-J’s new sports editor, Creig Ewing, is a savvy and amiable guy who let it slip that he once shared an elevator with Bruce Springsteen.

I felt surrounded by both kindred spirits and Kindred’s spirit — I first discovered Dave when he was writing columns for the Courier-Journal — and it felt a lot like home.

10 thoughts on “Tim Sullivan lands in Louisville: Describes his ‘George Bailey’ experience

  1. I am sio happy for Tim. What is the Union-Tribune’s loss is the Courier-Journal’s gain. I will miss Tim so very much, though.

  2. Tim, you forgot to throw in one more thing so I will. Based in Louisville, you get to see your alma mater, Mizzou, compete in the SEC. Best wishes and good luck at the paper where my aunt and uncle met.

  3. Tim, this is wonderful news. I had faith that a great door would open for you somewhere and hey, you are almost back home. Hope to keep in touch and run into you at the Winter Baseball Meetings perhaps in Nashville in December…..all the best, Bob

  4. This is great news for Louisville, for the news business and for Tim. They made a wise choice and, in the end, so did he.

  5. Very much enjoyed your Union Tribune column. Liked you on the Chargers roundtable as well. You will be missed by those in L.A. who tuned in to signon to hear your well reasoned insights and opinions.
    Thanks, Tim.

  6. Belatedly, congrats on your new gig. Manchester purchased the UT as his own public relations organ and anybody that wouldn’t support the paper’s editorial content was on borrowed time anyway. You just beat the crowd. Best wishes…

  7. Belatedly, congrats on your new gig. Anybody that wouldn’t blindly support the paper’s editorial content was on borrowed time anyway. You just beat the crowd. Best wishes…

  8. Tim,
    I was shocked to find you gone. You and Canepa were an embarassment of riches for us readers. What the heck was ownership thinking when they let you go? The UT seems tawdry now without its classiest writer. Seriously.

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