READING, PA (December 27, 2019) – I’d pick up the phone. He’d start the conversation with something like an obscure (to me) quote from Shakespeare, or the recitation of a poem. He might even have sang once, but I’m not sure. He was a constant reminder that I would fail a sophomore literature test if I had to take one again.
One of the real losses Berks County suffered in 2019 was the passing of Charles “Chuck” Gallagher. Chuck was the longtime editor of the Reading Eagle, a community thespian, a volunteer, a family man, and a friend.
A public trust
There’s an odd relationship between community foundation presidents and the editors of daily newspapers. People who occupy those positions are both equally and intensely focused, even obsessively, on the goings-on in a relatively small geographic area. Both want the people of that area to be well-informed and deeply engaged in the life of that community. Chuck and I both believed that we – the Community Foundation and the paper – were better off if the other thrived. It’s the nature of the jobs to seek each other out.
It was Chuck’s idea in 1996 to hire Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson to write “The Peirce Report.” It was also Chuck’s idea to have the Community Foundation pay for it, but it was the first of several partnerships between our organizations. The Peirce Report was part of an idea – controversial at the time – that local journalism should focus on identifying solutions, not just reporting on problems. It took some courage for Chuck to run that report in the local paper, and even more to engage with a community foundation.
But Chuck stepped out of the journalistic comfort zone because he understood that he was the steward of an institution that was more than just a paper. He understood that the Reading Eagle provided the oxygen that a community needed to breathe. Chuck understood that we depended on the Reading Eagle for citizens to know what their school board was thinking, how the local economy was doing, and when the Oley Fair would open. He really saw the newspaper as a public trust.
Even those of us who considered him to be a friend knew that we’d get no special treatment from the paper. No matter how many projects we worked on, I knew that the reporters at the Reading Eagle were going to be free to write what they thought about the Community Foundation, its projects, or me. I didn’t always like what they wrote (and I let Chuck know) but we were never, ever treated unfairly during his time as editor.
Chuck started the newspaper’s VOICES section for teens, which I often said was the most progressive youth development program in the community. Not only did it allow our young people to be heard, but it also provided hundreds of them with experience that couldn’t possibly be replicated. Many of those VOICES reporters went on to become journalists. The Community Foundation’s own Director of Communication, Jason Brudereck, started to learn journalism as a VOICES reporter.
In response to how much attention the newspaper lavished on outstanding athletes, Chuck started “Berks’ Best,” a scholarship competition that honors outstanding academic achievement. We worked together on that project as well, with the Community Foundation providing the scholarships and the recognition luncheon and the Eagle providing a special insert section of the newspaper to recognize the nominees and the staff time to manage the selection process and produce the insert.
Living up to a motto
During his years at the paper, Chuck worked to make it a force for good in the community. He was fond of reminding me that the paper’s motto – emblazoned at the top of the Opinion page – was “For the good that lacks assistance; for the wrong that needs resistance.” As the editor, he lived up to that motto.
In his retirement, he stayed active in community theater, which was his idea of fun. He loved acting and had a deep baritone voice that could project like few others. I reveled in telling him that he had both a voice and a face made for radio — and he laughed every time.
He stayed active in educating the community as the host of bctv.org’s “Berks Perspectives” show. Occasionally, I’d appear on that show, inevitably to be humbled again by being asked to react to some issue in the community framed in language from the middle of some Wallace Stevens poem. Chuck was worried about changes in the newspaper industry and how people would remain informed and saw BCTV as one avenue to help.
Through the quarter of a century that we knew and worked together, I received hundreds of private calls bringing to my attention this need or that in the community, or inquiring about whether we had any way to support a family he had heard about who had a financial challenge. He was one of my best sources of information about Berks County and I’d like to think I was one of his.
Chuck really cared about Berks County and its people. He leaned into his interests and his position to make it a better place.
The loss of Chuck Gallagher was a real one for us.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation