Glen Warchol, a longtime Utah journalist with a big voice and a bigger personality, died Wednesday of complications of heart disease. He was 65.
Bodacious and irascible, salty and irreverent — those are the colorful words used by friends and colleagues to describe Warchol’s one-of-a-kind personality. “He was not like anyone else,” says his wife, Mary Brown Malouf. “He was larger than life. He lived more intensely than anyone I ever knew.”
“He packed life into 65 years,” says Holly Mullen, his former wife, and mother of Caitlin “Kit” and Sam Warchol. “That’s italicized ‘life,’ in 74-point-sized font.”
In the small-town circles of Utah politics and journalism — including at The Salt Lake Tribune, where he worked for 15 years — just about everyone has a colorful Warchol story. Most know him as a storyteller who could spin a yarn like nobody’s business.
He took seriously a journalist’s obligation to speak truth to power. And over the years, his blistering honesty sometimes sparked trouble. He was “a loudmouth in the best way possible,” says Malouf, executive editor of Salt Lake magazine, where Warchol was managing editor. “He got beaten back a lot over being a troublemaker and saying something other people would prefer not to hear.”
What politicians and even colleagues didn’t know was that he read everything from poetry to hard-news feeds, was an avid birdwatcher and built telescopes. “He read all the works of Shakespeare for fun, and all the concordances, and all the guides, and remembered it all,” Malouf says.
“On the surface, Glen reveled in being a pain in the ass,” says Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke. “He was never as giddy as when he was putting his finger in the eye of powerful people. It was like a challenge to him — and that made him a really excellent reporter.”
An excellent reporter, but a challenge to manage. Perhaps Warchol’s unique sense “of anarchy and subversion,” as one colleague described it, is exemplified by the time he live-tweeted his layoff from The Tribune in 2012. “Everybody in town knew what had happened,” Malouf says.
In the Tribune newsroom, he was a gadfly, the kind of reporter who seemed like a character out of “All The President’s Men.” He’d wander around, loudly grousing about some perceived stupidity. When I was his editor, I would often overhear him repeat the same story two or three times around the room before he reiterated some detail of his reporting to me.
Like a stand-up comic, he was trying out his material. “All of his newsroom chatter would be distilled into 80-proof prose that would cut through the bullcrap and get to the heart of the matter,” says Sean P. Means, The Tribune’s movie critic.
Warchol’s skill and kindness in mentoring young reporters were evident in the scores of tributes posted on Facebook on Wednesday and Thursday.
“As intensely as he did his job and lived his life, he loved his people,” Gehrke says. “Mary was his soulmate and his kids were his reason for living. They were everything to him. And he was devoted to his tribe — the eclectic group of people they brought to their lives. As long as you brought something interesting to the stew, they welcomed you in.”
Warchol was raised in a hardscrabble immigrant neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He earned a master’s degree in special education and studied American Sign Language, working for a time as an itinerant teacher in southern Georgia.
Eventually, he turned to journalism, earning a degree in New Mexico. He worked in Twin Falls, Idaho, before he was hired at the Deseret News in 1982. In 1986, Warchol quit the paper after editors declined to publish a groundbreaking report about gay Mormons in Utah, and went to work for United Press International, a syndicated wire service.
Warchol was at the center of a group of Salt Lake City journalists who came together in the 1980s. “He could make the most profound, offensive, enlightened, audacious, shocking, kind and tender observations — all in the same minute of time,” says Vicki Varela, a former Deseret News reporter who is now the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding. “I used to spend a lot of time bracing myself for what Glen would do next, and I finally learned to just savor all of it for what it was. He will be deeply missed.”
“He created this cohesiveness — and this disruption — at the same time,” Varela says. “I do feel like our whole community shrunk just a little bit yesterday. He was such an amazing force in the middle of it. And you just never knew where this force would show up and disrupt and enlighten.”
Warchol married Holly Mullen in 1985, and the couple worked for papers in Minnesota and Texas before both returned to Salt Lake City to work at The Tribune in 1997.
In 2004, Warchol married Malouf at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder. The couple camped around the West and traveled the world, visiting England in June and Nepal in September. He was born with a heart condition, suffered a massive heart attack at age 42, and then underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2005.
For all his skill as a dogged reporter, Warchol had a beautiful narrative touch, on display in a Christmas essay published in 2011. Warchol wrote about his tradition of visiting a new dive bar every Christmas Eve, ordering a Miller High Life and toasting — ”This is going to be a good Christmas” — in memory of his parents.
His kids are carrying on the tradition. “One thing I think we’re all going to miss is how colorful he was in any conversation, and how much humor he brought to any situation,” says son Sam Warchol.
Memorial services are pending.