Chris Dovi still remembers the phone call he received in April 2004 while working in the public relations department for Henrico County.
It was from a member of the Pace family, the ones who owned the Herald-Progress newspaper at the time. But the news wasn’t good.
Joseph Malcolm “Jay” Pace III, the paper’s editor and publisher, had an illness that started in his early 50s but quickly worsened. The Monday after Easter, Pace had a cerebral hemorrhage and stroke. He died April 12.
Almost immediately, Dovi, a former H-P reporter, took off from work and returned to the newspaper to fulfill a promise. Long before Pace died, he had requested that Dovi write his obituary because of Dovi’s stint writing obituaries for the Richmond Times-Dispatch several years prior.
So, Dovi held up his part of the deal. He and another reporter teamed up to write the obituary and several other front-page stories in honor of their editor, publisher, mentor and friend.
“It was the hardest thing I ever did,” Dovi said.
Well, besides the execution story Pace sent Dovi to cover one time while working at the H-P. Dovi remembered that, laughed and changed his statement.
“This was definitely the saddest and most difficult,” he said.
That was 10 years ago.
But many, like Dovi, remember Pace and the day he left the “Center of the Universe,” like it was yesterday. Because he was more than just the editor and publisher of the H-P, but someone whose memory will live on through the lives he touched and the news pages he filled.
The connections Pace made over the course of his life, especially during his time in Hanover County, were because he was a man who wore many hats.
Even from the beginning, Pace, who originally hailed from Richmond, was incredibly involved, especially when his wife, Pat Pace, first met him on a disastrous “blind date” in 1966.
Memories of the night have stuck with his wife ever since —because the date kept getting pushed back because of Pace’s obligations. At the time, Pace went to Randolph-Macon College and not only had a job working as the basketball team’s manager but also as a “stringer” for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Pace also wrote for the student paper, The Yellow Jacket.
The couple, who were both still in college, went out to dinner — Pace only had coffee while Pat ate a meal before they headed to a Randolph-Macon basketball game.
The rest of the night, Pace had to be on the sidelines and then report on the team’s loss directly afterward, Pat said. It was not until 11 p.m. that night that their date actually began.
“It’s kind of a wonder we stayed together,” she said.
In 1967, the couple tied the knot, the start of a nearly 37-year union.
When draft deferment ended, Pace went back to Randolph-Macon College, but as a public relations director from 1968 to 1972 until he moved on to doing corporate PR for Life Insurance Company of Virginia. It was not long before Pace discovered a personal distaste for the “corporate world.”
In 1973, he started working at the Herald-Progress and the Paces moved to live closer to the paper. At that time, the Watkins family owned the H-P.
After a while, Pat started working at the paper, too. When the couple bought the H-P in 1981, she became business manager.
Though Pat did not share her husband’s passion for journalism, it was OK because she was his other half and in the newspaper business — the one who handled the money.
“He was the visionary and the word person and I was the one that kept us from getting sued from non-payment of debts,” his wife said.
And it worked out.
The Herald-Progress remained a family-owned newspaper until July 2004. In March 2004, Pace began the process of selling the H-P, just before he died in April of that same year, said Liz Chambers, Pace’s daughter.
In the Community
Throughout Pace’s career at the newspaper, he established himself in the town of Ashland and Hanover.
He was involved in various community activities and events from his participation in Ashland’s Fourth of July festivities, where he would dress up from head to toe in patriotic clothes and lead the town parade, to being a performer and the musical director for the Ashland Variety Show. Readers and residents could find Pace singing and performing on stage — getting a taste of his musical talent.
Everyone knew him from somewhere or something whether it was from an event around town or an editorial he wrote.
But Pace wasn’t just known for his community involvement. He was also known for cultivating young journalists and sending them off, if they were ready.
Maureen Brown, one of Pace’s former reporters, was one of them. Brown worked at the Herald-Progress during the mid-1980s and is now a public relations director for a regional bank in Ohio.
Like many other reporters, working at the H-P was Brown’s first gig in her professional career.
“It’s still the best working experience I’ve ever had,” she said.
Even though 10 years have passed since Pace died, the memories of him and the lessons he taught remain in the people he impacted throughout his life and career.
Brown has been in charge of her own staff for the past nine years at Huntington Bank, and she always thinks about her former boss and how he operated his staff. She especially liked his style of management and work ethic in the newsroom.
“He had a skill that motivated you to do your best but he allowed you to have fun,” Brown said. “And that is very difficult to do.”
One fond memory of hers was just recalling how Pace appeared to staff members when they arrived at work in the morning — wearing khaki pants, a T-shirt and tennis shoes with a cup of coffee brewing nearby, typing with two fingers at his computer while holding a cigarette in between his teeth.
“You’d come in [the office] in the morning and he was in a wonderful mood but also asking you things and making you think — it was just a wonderful experience,” she said.
During Brown’s time at the H-P, she learned a lot from Pace including how to ask the right questions during an interview and how to write well.
Brown said she learned the most by watching his mannerisms, studying how he talked with the people he interviewed and reading his writing. But Brown took away more than career lessons from her beloved boss; she also learned how to not take herself so seriously. Brown said Pace’s self-confidence and ability to laugh at himself shined through to his staff including her.
“He taught a lot by example,” she said.
Among the big journalism-related lessons Pace taught his protégés was the importance of the newspaper in a community.
Brown said Pace believed the role of a newspaper was to be a servant to the public by providing them with necessary information to make informed decisions.
She added that he believed it was part of the paper’s responsibility to play a central role in the community and to hold government accountable.
But it wasn’t important to Pace for his staff members to just know the role of the paper; more important, he would say, was knowing the community they served inside and out.
According to Dovi, Pace would tell his new reporters one piece of advice for community journalists that didn’t live in the county: “If you don’t live in Hanover, this is your community,” Dovi said. “Know your community, get to know the people in the community and go forth and do what you do.”
Young journalists would run with it, carrying with them a sense of importance and responsibility, Dovi said.
Dovi said he still carries with him the lessons and techniques he learned during his time at the H-P. These include the importance of school reporting or “kids and puppies,” which was Pace’s motto, because to him that’s what sold papers. As a result, Pace focused greatly on education in the newspaper, Dovi said.
Next to Dovi’s parents, Pace was a big deal.
“I can say this with absolute feeling that he was probably the most influential person in my life — bar none,” Dovi said.
The same goes for one of the H-P’s former photographers, Doug Buerlein, who is now a well-established corporate freelance photographer.
“Anybody that ever worked there very clearly learned that we have a responsibility and we have to be truthful, honest and can’t show any prejudice or anything,” Buerlein said.
Any staff members would know this after working at the newspaper with the “chief,” which Buerlein said was the staff’s name for Pace at the time. During Buerlein’s stint at the H-P, there were four reporters, which he said all moved up and on to other jobs after a while and once they did move up, they knew all the basics of writing news and working for a paper.
“They learned all that from Pace,” he said.
And when Buerlein moved away from newspapers and into corporate photography, he said he shot photos just like he would have for the newspaper — with a human-interest appeal.
“People would go ‘Man, this is awesome. This is unbelievable — this is what we’ve been looking for,’” Buerlein said.
And everything he brought to the table at his new jobs, Pace taught him.
Even though Pace led a busy life with the newspaper and mentoring young reporters, he always made time for family.
Two weeks out of the year, the Pace family vacationed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, cultivating memories on their trips to the beach.
“Vacation to him was going to the Outer Banks — fishing and sitting on the beach,” his wife said.
But even when on vacation, Pace would still write editorials or columns. Pat Pace said he wrote pieces from his beach chair on the sand or wherever he was at the time. Their “big night out” consisted of grabbing ice cream from the nearby Dairy Queen or going mini-golfing, which Pace wasn’t a fan of.
And although home life at the Paces may not have been “normal” to many, Chambers said they all understood that being editor of the Herald-Progress was what her father was meant to do.
And the family often met Pace in the middle. At their church, Saint James the Less, Pace led the children’s choir, which both Chambers and her brother, Chris Pace, were a part of. Every Saturday morning, the three spent time together, practicing songs for the following day’s service, Chambers said.
There was also a church camp that the children went to and Pace dropped them off and picked them up each summer. At the camp, Pace helped build some of the cabins and it meant a lot to the family.
Chambers said she believes those efforts were to “instill” a sense of faith in her and her brother.
“A lot of my memories and connections with him are relevant to the church,” she said.
Pace also coached a lot of the sports teams his son was on such as Little League Baseball and in time, also led Chambers’ softball team.
There were also the times the children and Pace could spend time together after school each day. Because you could find Pace in the H-P office around 5 or 6 a.m. editing the paper before sending it off, he would always finish up in the afternoon just in time for the kids to be home from school.
“You’d get to see him in these little select times,” his son said.
That was also when Pace would make sure to make time for his daughter. She said when she got home from school around 3 p.m., her dad would have just finished sending the paper off and that was always one guaranteed moment out of the day that the two could bond in the kitchen of their home.
Pace always made time.
“It was his way of staying connected,” Chambers said.
When Pace thought of his plans for retirement, he had a specific idea in mind. He wanted to end up in the Outer Banks — his favorite getaway spot.
“At Christmas time, he always said, ‘I want peace and quiet and a house on the Outer Banks,’” Pat Pace said.
The couple bought a house there in October 2002 and was able to use it for 18 months before Pace died.
Though Pace never got to fully enjoy his retirement plans or see his five grandchildren, he got something more and left a legacy behind.
“He only got 58 years on the planet, but he got a lot out of them,” Chris Pace said.
And in the town he loved dearly, Pace is remembered not only in people’s memories and by a statue of him in front of the Ashland library, but also by the shear existence of the Herald-Progress newspaper. Pace’s pride and joy is still alive and kicking.
“I challenge you to find other communities that have newspapers keeping afloat,” his son said. “[My dad] has been dead 10 years, but it’s still there.”