Our Unsung Hero

Courtesy photoJohn "JC" Lockwood, in addition to being a master page designer for the Eagle-Tribune, was a connoisseur of music and had a special interest in Czechoslovakian music and culture.  

As nearly anyone in journalism will tell you, it's not a career for those looking to enjoy a wealthy lifestyle.

Unless you marry well, work several jobs or receive an inheritance, there's a good chance that money will be tight throughout your life. It comes with the territory.

But there are certain perks to being a writer, one being that you have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, or at least make people feel good about themselves. And, for those with egos (i.e most of us), you're likely to receive compliments and words of gratitude from your subjects and their friends and relatives.

Well, those compliments will probably be fewer for us in the future due to the death this week of John "JC" Lockwood, who succumbed to cancer at the too-young age of 64.

Haven't heard of Lockwood? He was a page designer for the North of Boston Media Group — specifically for the Daily News of Newburyport and The Eagle-Tribune's sports sections — for the last six years and a master at his trade. He made our stories stand out in an artful way that made them beg to be read. He made our copy look good even when it wasn't so good.

"JC was incredible. Whether it was a feature he'd spent all day laying out or a late football or basketball game he had 10 minutes to cram in before deadline, he always made our sections look good," said Daily News sports editor Mac Cerullo.

"We all wrote some truly mediocre-to-bad stories that I'm sure more people have read than the story deserved because JC made it look appealing on the front page," is the way colleague Kyle Gaudette put it.

Veteran Eagle-Tribune sportswriter Mike Muldoon echoes that and more.

"In 33 years here, I've worked with maybe 100 sportswriters, some real top-notch ones, too," Muldoon said. " ... If I had to pick any colleagues, though, JC would easily be in my top five. He was that talented and made that much of an impact on our section."

In short, JC was the sports department's ultimate Unsung Hero.

The irony of it was that JC was not a big fan of sports, and when he was hired in 2014, I remembered that from when we both worked at the Haverhill Gazette — at the time a daily publication. He was a lifestyles writer with a focus on music, later to become a lifestyles editor at the Gazette and other papers.

When it became clear that he would be designing the sports pages at The Eagle-Tribune, I wondered if that was wise. Could someone who could care less about sports really do the pages justice? Well, the answer was a resounding yes.

JC was a professional who embraced his work, no matter what it was. Give him a storyline and he'd present it in the most appealing way possible, regardless of the topic.

At times, because he could be passionate, JC was stubborn and almost obstinate if you disagreed with his layout and suggested a change was in order. He even got a little angry at times, and you wondered if he'd be less cooperative in the future.

But, in a trait that all of us would do well to emulate, he had a short memory for spats and never held a grudge.

"If he was frazzled and frustrated at you as you're telling him to make big changes at midnight, he'd be back to calm, cool and friendly with you and wish you a good night when the shift was over," said Gaudette.

JC's fellow designers took note that he could get frustrated — and vocal — when things didn't go the way he expected. But they also took note of his design genius.

On more than one occasion, colleague John O'Neil would replace him on a day off and say, "I just try to do it the way I think JC would."

For years prior to coming to the Tribune, JC was highly respected for his writing of and support for local musicians in the Newburyport area. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of music in general, with a particular love of music from Czechoslavakia. Three times, he traveled to concerts there. 

"John was an unforgettable person," said Haverhill's Dan Fitts, who was JC's editor at the Gazette.  "He was so talented in so many ways and ... I've rarely met anybody who knew more about music than John."  

When word spread that he was quite ill with cancer, tributes flowed in from local musicians thankful for his support. All were heartfelt and most were quite touching.

Working in the background, where his name didn't appear on the pages he put together, JC won't get the same volume of tributes from his time with us, but he should.

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