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Glenn Drohan, influential journalist in Western Mass.

GLENN DROHAN GLENN DROHAN
By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / May 29, 2011

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With a sure grasp of the issues and an even tighter grip on the facts, Glenn Drohan wrote editorials for the North Adams Transcript that could make an elected official’s blood boil or shift public opinion.

“He wrote some very strong editorials and was a very influential writer,’’ said John Barrett III, who served 13 terms as mayor of North Adams, much of that time under Mr. Drohan’s scrutiny as a reporter or editor. “He could swing a vote, he could influence a decision by local boards, just by his writing.’’

Of course, when it came to arguing points persuasively, Mr. Drohan had more practice than most. Lively discussions at home when he was growing up presaged his later years as a reporter and editor.

“He loved to debate from an early age and would debate you on any subject,’’ said his brother, Kerry, of Brewster. “I remember Glenn and our father debating whether North Adams should be called a jewel of a city or a gem of a city.’’

Mr. Drohan, who was editor in chief of the Transcript and also plied the community journalism trade at the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield and other area publications for more than a quarter century, died in North Adams Regional Hospital on Thursday, the day he turned 59. He was being treated for throat cancer that had metastasized.

“He knew how to dig to get stories,’’ Barrett said. “He had contacts in the unions, he had contacts in government, he had contacts in the community. He knew the county, he knew the people, he knew the issues. Whether he was writing a story or an editorial, he always had his facts right. He knew his topic well before he wrote it.’’

That doesn’t mean Barrett liked everything his old friend wrote. Like many an official, Barrett occasionally felt the sting of Mr. Drohan’s prose, and laughed as he asked: “Do you want me to tell you how we wouldn’t talk for six months at a time after he wrote a bad editorial?’’

Many reporters and editors use places where Mr. Drohan worked — including the local weekly newspaper the Advocate and the Brattleboro Reformer in Vermont — as stepping stones to larger venues. Mr. Drohan stayed, in part because of family and also because of other interests that were as important to him as journalism.

“A lot of people didn’t know how accomplished he was in a variety of realms,’’ said his close friend Nick Noyes of Adams, a former chief photographer at the Transcript who now is a freelance writer and photographer.

“He wrote everything from editorials and news stories to children’s theater,’’ Noyes said. “He was a great editor, but he also was a very good actor and musician. He was an excellent singer and played guitar. At his house, he built these incredible stone pathways. Glenn would get down on his hands and knees with tweezers and a clump of moss and plant the moss between the stones. When you see it, it looks like it’s been there a hundred years, it’s unbelievable.’’

Kerry Drohan, the editor of Globe North, said his brother also was “a born outdoorsman and one of the great fishermen in the state. That’s my bias, but he knew every good fishing hole from the Berkshires to the Cape.’’

On camping and fishing trips, Mr. Drohan often took along his daughter, Mollie, who said that “those were the times when he was happiest. Those things made him absolutely who he was. They made him so content. You could see it in his face that he was so happy in those moments.’’

Mr. Drohan also wrote music for Something Different, an area children’s theater group, and he liked to take out his guitar and a pile of old songbooks to sing with Mollie, who lives in Chicopee.

“He was awesome. He was such a good dad,’’ she said. “He could make you laugh all the time, and he had a song for everything. All you had to do was say a word and he’d come out with a song and just start singing it.’’

The older of two sons, Mr. Drohan was born in Holyoke and, because his father was a civil servant whose work meant moving often, also lived in Alabama, Connecticut, and Maryland by the time he turned 9.

He graduated in 1970 from Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Md., and spent much of the next 15 years in the Army, into which he was drafted, the Navy, in which he enlisted, and college after college.

“At last count, he went to 14 colleges,’’ his brother said. “He probably had enough credits to get a PhD, but he never graduated anywhere. We used to have a lot of laughs about that. When we tried to sit down and list all the colleges, it got pretty fun.’’

In the mid-1980s, his brother said, Mr. Drohan “got the journalism bug’’ and started working at the Transcript, where “he wrote some longish stories’’ because he was paid by the column inch.

Mr. Drohan, whose marriage to Sarah Morse ended in divorce, twice served as editor of the Transcript, and also was editor of the Brattleboro Reformer and the Advocate, along with working as a reporter at the Eagle.

A dozen years ago, he and Marsha Landry became a couple. They had been friends for years and Landry, who formerly served on the North Adams City Council, knew his newspaper work.

“We really connected in terms of film,’’ she said. “We were both avid fans of the musicals of the ’50s. Basically, you could name any one of those movies and we would both break into song. We knew them all.’’

They also shared an old Victorian house in North Adams, upon which Mr. Drohan lavished attention, building stone walkways from the gazebo to their garden.

“On a cold winter night with the fireplace going, we’d watch a movie,’’ she said. “He loved building a fire. If I let him, he’d build a fire in August.’’

Rather than hold a memorial service, family and friends plan to gather at a pub this summer to raise a glass and celebrate the life of Mr. Drohan, an Irish wake for a man proud of his Irish-American heritage. They’ll tell stories about Mr. Drohan and about the stories he broke as a reporter and editor, but they won’t talk about a successor.

“You hear quite often when someone passes away that it’s the end of an era, but with Glenn Drohan, it really, truly is,’’ Barrett said. “He was the last of what I call the old political reporters in Berkshire County. They just don’t make them like him any more. They won’t see the likes of Glenn Drohan out here again.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.