The Right Choice?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll probably never really know.


Categories: Alumni , Campus , History , Research

A sign welcomes visitors to Libby, Montana.
A sign welcomes visitors to Libby, Montana.

I received my copy of the Spring 2016 issue of the Montanan and read with great interest Erika Fredrickson’s story, “The Rebirth of Libby.” It brought back a lot of great memories since I lived and worked in Libby from 1991 to 1994. It was my first job after graduation from UM. I worked at the Western News, which at the time was owned by Cabinet Publishing Co.

It also brought back a rather painful memory – a fateful decision I made in March 1994. Just days after I accepted a new job as a county, religion and health reporter for the La Grande (Oregon) Observer, I met with a Kalispell lawyer who had gotten my name from the head of an environmental law firm – Jasper Carlton. 

He called me out of the blue and set up a meeting with me while he was in Libby doing some research. It was his intention to become my source for a series of investigative pieces on W.R. Grace and a number of former employees who were dying horrible deaths. Unfortunately, our meeting came weeks late as I had already given notice to my editor, Roger Morris, and I had plans for my parents to come to help me move the several hundred miles to my new home.

Before and after meeting with the lawyer, I spoke with Roger about the story and about how much I wanted to be a part of this new investigative project. But I also wanted very much to move on to a daily paper that would pay me more than I could earn at the Western News. Roger admitted there was no way he could match the salary I would get at the new job. And he advised me that calling the Observer so late in the game after they paid for me to visit the paper and the La Grande community and I accepted the position might not be good for my career.

So I told the lawyer that unfortunately I could not work on the investigative series since I was leaving. I urged him to contact my editor as well as reporter Joe Chopyak. I don’t recall if he ever told me his name. And in the tumult of the move to La Grande and the start of a new job, I lost contact with him and forgot about the story until the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake and the Seattle Post Intelligencer broke it in 1999. At the time I was working at the Walla Walla (Washington) Union Bulletin, which was owned by the Seattle PI’s archrival, The Seattle Times.

It’s funny how certain decisions – choices, really – can have lasting repercussions throughout your life. Was it the right choice? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll probably never really know.

One thing is for certain, though. I certainly missed Libby for years following that fateful decision. It was, without a doubt, some of the best years of my life. I loved that community. I loved the people there. And I loved the scenery. That’s probably one of my biggest regrets, having to leave all that behind.

Gregory Van Tighem ’89
Edgewood, Washington

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