I first met John Harrigan in 1989, which probably seems like a long time ago to anyone under 50. To me, it seems like yesterday afternoon
The man who introduced me to “Harrigan” (as most people, including himself, refer to him) was James Romeo Bucknam, known to his familiars as “Bucky” (though I never called him that to his face). Bucky was the formidable retired executive editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader who had covered the North Country for many years, so, of course, he and Harrigan were tight.
I was Bucky’s naïve assistant editor at a new local newspaper named The Bow Times. We were operating on a Yankee shoestring (i.e. well-used and somewhat frayed), so we had our typesetting done by a local shop and took our printing to the cheapest place we could find that would do good work. That place happened to be Harrigan’s presses in Lancaster where he printed such legendary newspapers as the Coös County Democrat and Colebrook’s The News and Sentinel.
We published The Bow Times every two weeks back in the day, so a trip to Lancaster with Bucky to pick them up was always a welcome jaunt. I’d hear the same stories over and over (which I’ve now all but forgotten), and we’d maybe get a bite to eat with Harrigan while the press run was finishing up.
At the time, Harrigan was a regular voice on NH Public Radio (then referred to, affectionately, as WEVO — pronounced wee-voh). I’m pretty sure he would call the station once a week (he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) and just tell the listeners about what was going on “north of the notches.” It was a popular segment, and apparently that puzzled Harrigan. I was there once as he spoke casually into the phone for a live broadcast. When he hung up, he said, “I don’t know what they get out of that.”
I’d been eavesdropping on the northern half of the conversation and appreciating the spell Harrigan could weave just by talking about how the moose herd was doing and laughing about some curiosity from the local police blotter.
I tended to keep quiet during these trips and would mainly just listen to Harrigan and Bucky going at it, but, after his remark, I said, “I guess a fish doesn’t know it’s wet.”
Harrigan heard me, looked thoughtful for a second, then smiled. That was the extent of our early bonding, but, ever since, I’ve felt like I had a friend, advisor and confidant who lived and loomed large in our mythic North Country.
Bucky died just a few years later, in 1993. In the interim, I’d become editor of The Bow Times, then, upon its sale, found my way to New Hampshire Magazine (which was then called New Hampshire Editions). I understand The Bow Times is back in print on a monthly basis, under the leadership of attorney Chuck Douglas, a former NH supreme court justice and US representative from New Hampshire.
NH Public Radio now has too many call signs to be known as anything but NHPR. The Democrat and the Sentinel are still rolling off the presses every week.
The beginning of a new year is a chance to contemplate the changes we’ve survived and those we hope to make in the year ahead, but it’s also a chance to think about what endures: like good local journalism, old acquaintances who should not be forgotten and, of course, days of auld lang syne.