Richard C. Bayer, former Pilot reporter and editor, dies

BY LAUREN KING

The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK - Richard C. Bayer, a retired reporter, editor and writing coach for The Virginian-Pilot, died Sunday. He was 82.

He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and grew up in New Jersey, said his son Hayden Bayer. He graduated from Park College in Missouri.

During college, he spent his summers as a farm worker and bossed a silo repair crew, according to a 1971 biography in the Ledger-Star. After college, he wanted to learn Spanish and went to the University of Mexico for five months.

Bayer’s first newspaper job was in 1955 as a copy boy at The New York Times, according to a 1967 article from The Virginian-Pilot. He later worked at the Charlotte (N.C.) News as a police reporter and copy reader. After marrying the former Jacqueline Goodman of Norfolk, they went to Europe to travel and study at the Sorbonne in Paris.

When they returned to North Carolina, he became an Associated Press staffer in Charlotte and Raleigh before moving to Norfolk to work as an education and medical writer for the Ledger-Star in June 1966.

The Bayers had three children, Seth, Hayden and Sara.

At home, he was an active man who enjoyed sailing, rowing and swimming. He even had a 17-foot day sailer that he would take out on Willoughby Bay on the weekends, Hayden Bayer said. He also had an extensive garden that he worked with his children.

When the Bayers had only one car, he would leave it for his wife and take the bus to the newspaper's downtown Norfolk office from Wards Corner.

"He was totally dedicated to his work," his son said.

Though he won several awards for his work as a reporter, it was his work as an editor that drew the most praise from his former Pilot colleagues.

“He made us all look better than we were,” said Fred Kirsch, who worked with him at The Pilot and later as a writing coach partner. Any changes to a reporter’s writing, Kirsch said, was always kept in the writer’s voice.

“He sort of let you find yourself,” he said.

Tom Huang, the Sunday & Enterprise Editor at The Dallas Morning News, said Bayer, his first editor, has inspired the work he does today.

“He would sit with you, side by side,” Huang said. “He’d go through the story line by line.

“He would show me how he would take it apart and then put it back together.”

Huang said he remembered Bayer laughing and clapping when he saw something in a story he liked.

"He really inspired me to put the story first," Huang said.

Bayer told him to imagine he was telling a story to a friend and start with the most interesting thing.

"I thought it was all about the facts," said former Pilot crime and courts reporter Joe Jackson, "but Dick would always ask, 'What's the story?'"

Jackson said he was a perfectionist with writing. He wanted to make sure every detail was correct and there were several Friday nights when Jackson said he'd be sitting with Bayer going over a single line of his story.

"I was a fairly new father and just wanted to go home," he said. "But even then I knew how valuable he was."

Marc Davis, a spokesman for the city of Virginia Beach and former Pilot writer and editor, remembered how much Bayer enjoyed the newsroom's philosophical arguments at 9 a.m., which would otherwise occur at a bar around 11 p.m.

WTKR reporter and former Pilot staffer Mike Mather said Bayer was the most influential person in his career.

In 1995, Mather won a Slover Award from The Pilot. When Bayer retired in 1996, Mather left the award on his former boss’ front porch as a thank you. The next day, it was delivered back to Mather with a note that said he could never wear another man’s medal.

“I owe him everything in my career,” Mather said.

He is also survived by his wife of more than 20 years, Phyllis.

Lauren King, 757-446-2309, lauren.king@pilotonline.com

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