Retired journalist shares stories of 6 decades of work

Nina Mandell

Tom Buck will never forget a dead man’s underwear.

As the retired journalist told an audience Tuesday night, he vividly remembers the details of his first assignment for the Chicago Tribune in 1939, when he had to go to a morgue and get a description of a gunshot victim.

“When I looked in the paper that afternoon, I saw a few lines about a man shot at a traffic light and then I saw my line,” Buck said. “‘The deceased was wearing green silk underwear.'”

Buck, an 87-year-old Evanston resident, spoke about some of his experiences in journalism at the Evanston Public Library with 40 residents and Northwestern students. Many of these stories are included in Buck’s new book, “Buck, Buck, What’s Up?: Tales from 60 Years in Journalism.”

Buck, who recently retired, worked at the Tribune for 30 years, was a journalism instructor at Loyola University in Chicago and was the press secretary for former Chicago Mayor Jane M. Byrne.

Buck’s more memorable moments came from his 30 years at the Chicago Tribune where he covered famous Chicago personalities such as Mayor Richard J. Daley, the father of current Mayor Richard M. Daley.

“Press conferences were different,” Buck said. “Only five to six people sat in front of his desk, in a more friendly environment, but we still had hardball questions.”

Buck said his love of journalism began with his first job as a newspaper boy.

“I’ve been obsessed with journalism since age 11 when I started carrying newspapers,” he said.

Buck said he wrote his favorite story after he totaled his car on Sheridan Road in Evanston. He looked in the Tribune’s accident files and discovered three deadly collisions had occurred at the intersection. Buck’s article on the dangerous intersection prompted the city to improve the road’s safety.

“Once in a while, you could do something that benefits people,” he said, “and that’s what I loved about my job.”

Medill freshman Val Thompson said he hopes to follow Buck’s career path.

“He’s along the same track that I want to follow (of) working for the Tribune,” he said. “I want to read his book because it would show me how someone could do that.”

Medill sophomore Bobby Harrison went to cover the event as a class assignment but said he left feeling motivated.

“Especially as a journalism major,” he said, “I found his career and stories very inspirational.”

Buck said anyone’s story can be engaging.

“I love to write about people,” he said. “I’m convinced you can write an interesting story about anyone.”