If a person stays at any job long enough, some day they will experience the death of coworkers. Some people experience this sad phenomenon sooner than others. Some of us experience this in waves, when within a short period of time, a few of our predecessors die.

In 2001 we reported with sadness the death of former News editor Gordon Duffy. Early this year we heard of the death of former senior managing editor Jack Sweet.

Jack died December 23, 2002 at age 88. He was with Business News Publishing Company for 54 years, starting as a cub reporter in the early 1940s. He experienced the hardships of war, Depression, and illness without losing his sense of humor. Jack was truly one of the sweetest people many of us have had the privilege to know.

He was also modest. I can imagine him reading the above and admonishing us with a gentle, “Oh, come now.”


John O. Sweet was a copy editor’s copy editor. He hated inaccurate writing and he loathed redundancies, all the while getting a big kick out of pointing them out. For instance, he would certainly have objected to the phrase, “death of former senior managing editor,” on the grounds that announcing a person’s death would indicate beyond all doubt that his title is a former one.

He shared the same sense of humor when he edited press releases. I remember him stating that if a company is introducing a new product, for example, the copy editor could easily take out the word “new”; if the company is introducing it, it must be new.

His logic and humor influenced every editor and publisher who worked with him. Former News senior editor Tom Mahoney recalls Jack saying, “They put the superlatives in [press releases] and we take them out!”

He took great pride in upholding the editorial standards of The News. I particularly recall the way he guided me through the writing of an article concerning a pending lawsuit, cautioning me about handling allegations that had not yet been proven in a court of law. Jack Sweet laid the groundwork for balanced reporting in many of us.

At the same time, Jack did not inspire us with fear. His good nature, intelligence, and dry humor made us want to do the things he suggested. I never saw him deal with a scofflaw. Maybe he acted differently. Maybe they did.

Jack was also politically correct before PC was cool. “I’m not short, I’m vertically challenged,” he said in the 1970s, recalls Mahoney.

Do You Know Jack?

Mahoney also recalls, “One of Jack’s first jobs was reclaiming cars from deadbeat owners, the stress of which fatigued him from day one. After the last pickup, at 6 p.m., his trainer said, ‘There’s still time to reclaim a Chevrolet from Toledo.’

“Jack never made it to day two.”

Jack and I proudly shared the same Alma Mater, Wayne State University in Detroit. Granted, there was a few years’ difference between us. At the time he studied there, he said, the Old Main building was nothing but a Quonset hut on Woodward Avenue. By the time I got there, Old Main was a creaky, old building in the midst of a sprawling campus.

In the early 1940s, Jack started working as a reporter for The Refrigeration News, which at the time had its offices in the heart of downtown Detroit, not far from the Detroit River. The pages of The News were set with a technology called “movable type.” I seem to recall Jack comparing it to the way Guttenberg typeset the Bible.

After a few years at The News, Jack took a military leave. “Jack saw duty in Panama during World War II,” Mahoney states, “for which he claimed credit as part of a mighty defensive result. ‘The Canal cuts through two oceans, and it was never attacked by the Japanese or German fleets.’”

When Jack returned from the war, he was welcomed back to The News by George Taubeneck.

I recall the days when I was still working as a proofreader for The News. Our offices were on the 18th floor of the Top of Troy building in Troy, Mich., the same building we are in today. Jack’s office was across the aisle from mine. One day there was a loud crack, and before we knew exactly what had happened, a glass panel off an interior wall shattered.

There was literally nothing left of that glass panel, except for crushed glass on the floor.

People came rushing from all over the company to see what had happened. After some minutes we all turned around and saw Jack, still seated at his desk, hands folded, eyes wide, and mouth open. “I didn’t do it!” he exclaimed.

Production assistant Kathleen Peacock remembers Jack talking about all the pills he took. He would line up all the pills for the day on the table “and go for it!” She also recalls that he boasted outliving several of his doctors.

Jack worked for The News past the age of eligibility for Social Security Retirement Income, is the PC way to put it. When asked why he stayed on, he joked that his wife, Mary, wanted to get him out of the house. From moveable type, he saw the rise of preset type and pasted pages. He wrote the Inside Dope column on a computer before he decided it was time to hit the links full time.

Jack is remembered by friends and family as having great enthusiasm for golf. He didn’t claim to be good, but he had a great love of the game. (I seem to recall there was at least one hole in one.) Even while losing his eyesight these last few years, friends recounted that Mary “would drive the cart to the green, set up the shot, and Jack would shoot from there.”

Tom Mahoney also recalled what Jack had said on his length off the first tee: “He smacked the ball 150 yards straight down the fairway. ‘And the other guy asked if I wanted a Mulligan!’ exclaimed Jack.”

Inside Dope

In addition to editing the articles that came from all the editors, Jack supplied the copy for the Inside Dope column, which ran as often as possible on or near the Editorial Page.

To some of us younger editors, “dope” meant something culturally different than it did to the older editors. Jack often found a useful middle ground by referring to it as “Dopes on the Inside.” Still, it must have made for interesting eavesdropping if someone were listening to a weekly layout planning session: “Do you have enough Dope this week?”

The column included award announcements from schools and companies, notable quotes, and jokes about golf, business, and life in general. Every week the section included the header, “Learn to live and laugh/Thus delay your epitaph.”

Jack Sweet was a wonderful teacher. We hope to see him again some day, red pen in hand, golf clubs on his back.

Barb Checket-Hanks is the service/maintenance and troubleshooting editor. She can be reached at 313-368-5856, 313-368-5857 (fax), or barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 01/20/2003