Monday, May 2, 2016

Indiana Loses Citizen Journalist Giant with Passing of Gary Welsh

I will always remember that bitterly cold, late fall day in December of 2008.  With my law office only a block or two from the City-County building, I would often make quick dashes to the courts eschewing wearing suit coat which had become ragged with wear.  On this day, I was set to "dash back" to my law office after a messy divorce hearing when a stranger wearing a brown jacket and gray stocking cap interrupted my journey.

"You are Paul Ogden, aren't you?" he asked.

Now, as the CCB is the location of many pan-handlers and those seeking free legal advice, attorneys
are called upon to make a quick judgment on anyone who accosts them in and around the building.  The man's clothing didn't suggest he was bumming for money and his closely cropped beard indicated he was engaging in regular hygiene.  Because of that, and the fact he knew my name, I answered "Yes."

Gary Welsh
That was the last word I would say for the next 20 minutes.  The stranger immediately launched into the most extraordinary detailing of the workings of Indianapolis government I had ever heard.  As I stood shivering just outside the CCB's doors on Delaware Street, with only my thin suit coat protecting me from the below freezing temperature, I listened to the unknown man not able to get a word in edgeways.   I decided to spend the last few minutes before the onset of hypothermia trying to figure out the identity of the person.  Finally it dawned on me.  The stranger before me was none other than the local legendary blogger, Gary Welsh.

Because of my frustration with the continued broken promises of Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, I had turned to blogging in August of that year.  I needed an outlet.  Writing letters to the editor was no longer satisfactory.  Neither were private emails or on-line comments to articles. My interest turned to the relatively new medium of blogging.  The gold standard for political blogs was Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana.  Gary, like me, was an independent-minded Republican who believed so-called conservatives who betray their campaign promises should be called out on that betrayal.  Gary often posted several articles a day, many of which included extensive research and original material.  While I knew I could never match the time and energy Gary put into blogging, my hope was to emulate to a degree his approach.

From that point forward, Gary and I communicated on a fairly regular basis, chiefly via email.  We had a lot in common.  Besides our shared political philosophy, we were both had worked extensively in government, including in the state legislature, he Illinois and me Indiana.  We were both two middle aged attorneys who had grown dissatisfied with the limited opportunities provided by the profession.

In addition to emails, Gary and I appeared at numerous political events, often as part of a panel discussion.  Having Gary on the panel meant my opportunities to speak would be limited.  Gary loved to talk.  He had this way of speaking in which he would take a breath in the middle of a sentence instead of at its completion, a technique that made it very difficult to take the floor from him.  But while Gary loved to talk, he did not ramble.  He had an astonishing encyclopedic knowledge of politics, government, and history.  He would talk in detail about things that happened in Indianapolis 50 years ago, as if he were there and witnessed the event.  It always fascinated me how he could retain such incredibly detailed knowledge when I struggle to figure out where I left my car keys.

Probably my best memories of Gary were meeting with him and others for a beer after attending political events together.  Gary was always at the center of the conversation, dominating the discussion with his exhaustive knowledge on every subject the group happened to be talking about.  I wish those who talked poorly of Gary would have had a beer with him.  Gary's caustic prose often belied what a gracious, tolerant person he actually was when he stepped away from blogging.

But what Gary will be known best for is that blogging.  He had, I think unquestionably, the best read political blog in the state.  Every day, and often several times in a day, people would check in to see what Gary had written.  Politicians looking to see if their name was mentioned and media types hustling for stories, all had Advance Indiana bookmarked.   Over a blogging career spanning nearly 11 years,  Welsh published 9,718 articles. When he began in 2005, most of Gary's stories were pro-LGBT rights, anti-religion, but traditional conservative on most other issues.  Welch's posts in more recent years suggest he became disenchanted with the LGBT movement and more tolerant(my description not his) of religion.

Where Welch really made his mark blogging though was outing political corruption and wrongdoing.   Welch was particularly critical of Indianapolis pay-to-play political culture which dominates local politics, regardless of which party controls the Mayor's Office or the Council.  One cannot begin to summarize all the schemes that Welch uncovered and published on his blog. Gary also loved to discuss conspiracies.  While that no doubt expanded his blogging audience, it detracted from his more serious reporting of local, state and national events.  But since Gary's inside information was so often right on his traditional stories, you were always left wondering if there might be something to the conspiracies Gary reported.

I do not know the demons that caused Gary to decide to end his life.  I know Gary was deeply dissatisfied with the practice of law.  Having saw Gary in action as an attorney, I can confirm he was a brilliant litigator, one of the best I have ever seen. But, as I have mentioned in other forums, being a good attorney is not enough for financial success or professional satisfaction.  You have to be given the right opportunity.  Law firms are simply not interested in hiring older, experienced attorneys unless they can be a rainmaker, i.e. bring big corporate clients to the firm.   That you are a good attorney with extensive knowledge of the law and experience in the courtroom, means absolutely nothing to them.  I know too Gary had tried to escape the law but found the doors to non-law jobs closed.  It is a phenomenon law schools do not tell you about - your legal degree and accompanying experience as an attorney may make you better able to do a particular non-legal job, but you will never get that job because the employer will view you as being overqualified.

Gary was also frustrated with his blogging.  Gary spent several hours a day blogging, maybe as many as 6-7 hours.  Every day he would review various news sources, and conduct investigations.   Gary complained that he received little compensation for his work.  Occasionally readers would donate, but that was a rarity.  Gary's blog had advertising, but the compensation from those ads was undoubtedly minimal.

Gary's chief complaint about blogging though was not the lack of compensation, but his belief nobody cared about the things he reported and what he wrote did not change policies.  Gary was also a target for personal attacks for reporting things some in power did not want reported took its toll.  Gary had a surprisingly thin skin for someone so willing to confront the misdeeds of powerful people, regardless of whether they are wearing a Democrat or Republican jersey.

On the latter, I told Gary that if we bloggers are going to stick our heads out of the foxhole, we need to expect they will shoot at us.  And as far as the personal attacks, they only do that when they know you are afraid your message is getting out.

On the former, Gary could not be any more wrong.  Gary's writing did make a difference.  His columns inspired media investigations, exposed wrongdoing, changed policies and held public officials accountable.  The problem with Gary was the measuring stick he used to judge his success.  If there was not immediate and complete change in response to one of his columns, Gary considered himself and his efforts a failure.  Public policy reform simply does not change that easily.  Often you have to pound on the door of reform for a long time before it is opened.

I wish Gary were around today to see what I have seen during the last 24 hours.  Maybe he would have changed his mind about his importance.  He touched so many lives.  His columns were daily reading material for thousands of people.  The accolades for what he did - the invaluable service he provided - cross party and ideological lines.  Even people Gary skewered in his columns praise him for what he did for this community.  Gary was loved and admired so much more than he ever could grasp.  If he understood that, I doubt he would have taken his life.

You will be so missed, Gary.  May you rest in peace.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Paul. Gary is such a loss to us all.

leon dixon said...

This is well done. I spent a good bit of time with Gary on Tuesday on some legal matters and drumming up some legal work that was not to be pro bono. Contra the received wisdom about his notions of conspiracy theories (a term devised by our CIA to conceal their own conspiracies in america) I think we will find that his dot connecting ability served him well in those speculations. As example, I ran this one by him and, in fairness, run it by you. Do you know anyone who uses a CPAP or a BIPAP breathing machine? If you do, you could innocently ask them that when traveling to a new hotel room what is the very first thing they do upon checking into the room? Most of the time it is to locate the electric outlet for their machine and ensure that it can be connected which they will do and test to see if the juice is flowing. A little later, ask them if they ever forget to use their breathing machine, even for short naps? After you have asked a number of folks you will have a pretty good idea of how folks like Justice Scalia treat their breathing machines as adjuncts to their living. So, I had read where Judge Scalia was found, on his bed, but his CPAP machine was not in use nor was he wearing the provided mask for such.
I'm sure that people can have heart attacks while using a CPAP machine and even die from such and naturally, to boot. However, a killer of a SC Justice might not have known about CPAPS and their usages and so left a clue for conspiracy nuts who understand that killing people, even in America, has a long history....Gary thought he'd double check the facts....

varangianguard said...

Gary was one of the good guys. His voice will be missed.

Phil Hinkle said...

Well put Paul. I only regret that I did not tell Gary more often how much I enjoyed reading his blog. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said, Paul. The loss of Gary Welsh is a huge loss for journalism in this city, and for the citizens who deserve to know what their government is up to.

Anonymous said...

Lovely tribute, Paul. Such a sad loss.

Bradley said...

Very well said on all accounts, Paul. No one could agree with him all the time, as I know I did not, but (like your blog, too, Paul) I could not stay away long because I did not want to miss what was going on in the news (and outside the news also). Gary Welsh was an original and did so much for strengthening local and state government.

Charles M. Navarra said...


Paul, a beautiful tribute to Gary Welsh! I just cannot believe he ended his life.

The residents of the Circle City and those who fight the entrenched, endemic political corruption of the major Hoosier political parties are so much poorer for Gary's passing.

I admired his writing talent, his bravery, his wit. I will miss him very much.

Godspeed, Gary Welsh, God Bless.

Pete Boggs said...

That's well said brother Ogden. It's great to read how you met Gary Welsh. And you're right Paul, he was a fascinating guy to have a beer with & learn from; a patriot of inimitable intellect; combative but compassionate & sincere. May the Lord shepherd his soul & comfort his loved ones.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the excellent eulogy, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Very well said, Mr. Ogden. I too checked Gary's blog multiple times a day hoping for the latest post right up until I heard the terrible news yesterday. Wish I could have met him in person and bought him a beer. I now hope to one day buy him that beer on the flip side. He was one of the good guys. Rest in peace, Gary.

Anonymous said...

Ps Mr. Ogden I check your blog every day too! Your writing is appreciated even if I don't always agree. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

One of the finest tributes I've ever read, Mr. Ogden. Mr. Welsh was blessed to know you and the many other folks who've expressed such kind and thoughtful words.

Anonymous said...

There will never be another Advance Indiana. Who will call bullshit on the story being fed to us by 6, 8, & 13? Who will take the time to cut the red tape to obtain the public documents the powers-who-be want to keep out away from our eye? Gary's best reporting revealed things we on the outside could never imagine occurred in our city. I believe he, like great reporters of the written newspapers of the past, gained the trust of sources, be it police officers or government underlings, and told us of the things they knew were wrong with our government. Like Ballard or Straub or IPS. I always figured he'd walk away from the Blog and I'd write "so long, and thanks for all the fish" as one last comment. Instead, a hole, and no chance to say good-bye.

Aaron said...

Very well put Paul, I am one who read Gary's postings everyday and contributed as much as a father of two could. I have allways appreciated the work that you and Garrry do and I hope the work in some way will continue.

Thank you for all the work you do Paul.

Godspeed Gary,

Aaron Heisler
Terre Haute, IN

Anonymous said...

Very well written Paul. I am honored to have been Gary's friend for several years. His death is a great loss. But a noble life is never truly lost. I have a feeling that Gary Welsh will still find ways even now to do good.

LamLawIndy said...

Wow. I am speechless. Gary's reporting & commentary will be sorely missed. Of course, Gary & I sometimes differed in opinion, but he was always genuine & forthright in his search for the truth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Paul. We have lost a true patriot and talent. Anyone who has read his posts are more educated than they were before they clicked on his blog.

God bless you, Gary. You have touched many souls on your short time among us.

Indy Rob said...

Thank you Paul. Very good job of remembering Gary.

leon dixon said...

Maybe the last real journalist in Indianapolis? Consider duh Star"s story today about Parking Meter Revenues Fall Short...how many of us would then dial up Advance Indiana to be reminded of, by name, of the idiots who messed this up? In time, no doubt, we will learn that their idiocy was compounded by corruption (see Chicago's lead on these sorts of things). I seem to recall reading only in blogs that in the haste of our idiots copy catting the Chicago "deal" that they had missed changing Chicago to Indianapolis in several instances. Gannett has so little talent or interest in being of use to the public that bloggers had a wide open territory to inform and be relevant to actual needs of those who can process information.

Anonymous said...

Stop referring to this as a suicide, if you have an ounce of intelligence, you know it was murder....somebody shut him up!

Anonymous said...

Paul, please let us know if there will be a public memorial for Gary and/or what the funeral arrangements will be. Thank you.

Pointman said...

Thank you Paul. There is one less voice of sanity in the this crazy world and Gary will be sorely missed.

Rest in Peace, Gary.



Timothy Kalamaros said...

"there is no surer claim than the one that pain has on life." -Ernst Junger