Longtime ABC Newspapers managing editor to retire

Since his teens, Peter Bodley, ABC Newspapers managing editor, has been a writing machine.

Peter Bodley
Peter Bodley

Those who know this native Englishman love him for his working acumen and also respect him for his strong personal character. Bodley just recently marked his 51st year in journalism and has announced his retirement, effective Feb. 7.

Bodley will continue a part-time alliance with ECM Publishers as a freelancer, covering Anoka County Board and Coon Rapids City Council meetings as well as writing other stories. Bodley has been regarded throughout ECM as one of the most hard working and experienced editors on staff.

“Peter’s knowledge, work ethic and news insights will be missed in ways that we surely haven’t fully realized yet here at ABC Newspapers,” said General Manager Tom Murray.

Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte says Bodley “shows up to every meaningful event in Anoka County with that old tattered notebook and takes complete notes and photographs every event as if it were his own child or grandchild’s wedding.”

Bodley joined the editorial staff of ABC Newspapers in May of 1970. He was born in South Woodford, London, and was educated at Brooklands Preparatory School, South Woodford, and Buckhurst Hill County High School, Chigwell, Essex.

Bodley’s interest in football (soccer) and cricket led to his interest in journalism. The subject was not offered in schools or colleges at the time in Britain, but because of his interest in sports, he asked the editor of the West Essex Gazette, the local weekly newspaper where he lived, if he could cover soccer games for it. He was given that opportunity. He wrote his stories and had his father, who was in the auto business, drop off the story at the newspaper on his way to work.

After leaving school in 1962, Bodley officially joined the West Essex Gazette in Epping, Essex, where he stayed six years. His first assignment was to accompany the editor to a court hearing on a rape case. “That was eye opening,” he says. Following his time at the West Essex Gazette, Bodley moved to the Oxford Mail evening newspaper in Oxford. He worked on the sports staff there for two years. He started there as a sports/copy editor and then became senior sports/copy editor.

During his youth Bodley played soccer and cricket. “I was enthusiastic rather than skillful,” he laughs. Now, in his retirement, Bodley says he plans to be glued to the television watching the World Cup Soccer Tournament this summer on ESPN.

Invited to America by aunt and uncle

Peter’s interest in America came in 1965 when his aunt and uncle who lived in Cambridge, MN invited him to come to this country for a two-week visit. During his visit to Minnesota, he saw the first game of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers. While here on a visit, he also saw two University of Minnesota football games and attended a Minnesota Vikings game featuring the heroics of quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

He also met his future wife, Pam on his visit to the U.S.

On a holiday here in 1969, Bodley spent a day at ABC Newspapers after meeting then-publisher Arch Pease. Bodley’s uncle, a 10th Judicial District Court judge, was an acquaintance of Pease. Bodley was invited by Pease to attend a Coon Rapids Rotary Club meeting where Bodley was the featured speaker.

Bodley and Pam were married in England in 1970. Following their marriage, he and Pam went to the American Embassy to make arrangements for him to come to America. “Arch told me to give him a call which I did and learned there was an opening as sports editor and Coon Rapids Herald editor,” Bodley recalls. He said he interviewed for the job and “got” the job.

“Here I was as sports editor in America and had only seen two Gopher games and one Viking game. The coaches showed me a lot of patience.”

Bodley became ABC managing editor in 1975 when Sam Clasen retired and continued as Coon Rapids Herald editor. Prior to that he did “anything and everything” at the newspaper, he says.

Staunch supporter of community weeklies

Bodley is a staunch supporter of community weekly newspapers. He says he has enjoyed covering a broad range of topics and thus “keeps a pulse of the community” by developing contacts and sources. He says he has liked being a working editor and has tried to be as hands off as possible when allowing his editorial staff members to do their jobs. “I try to let everyone do their job without getting in the way,” he says.

Much of Bodley’s journalism in recent years has centered on covering government news and also following judicial decisions.

He has worked very closely with Steve Gatlin, Coon Rapids city manager, who says that in his 40 years of city government work, Bodley has been most diligent in getting the facts right. “He wades through the technical jargon and is great about following through with issues,” Gatlin said.

John Piper, Coon Rapids fire chief, said, “first and foremost, Peter is a nice guy.” Piper said he has worked closely with Bodley over the years in reporting fires and applauds him for working with local fire officials in getting the safety message out, too.

Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe, who has served three terms and will not seek re-election this fall, said Bodley is a true professional.

“Peter had an amazing talent for making you feel like you were just having a casual conversation and then create a story from it,” Howe said. “He would be talking to me an often scribbling in some kind of shorthand which I think was his own language.

“What always has amazed me is how he seemed to be everywhere , day and night. I thought sometimes he must have a twin brother.”

Newspaper industry sees changes

Biggest changes Bodley says he has seen in the newspaper business are in technology.

Bodley resides in Fridley and has a daughter Courtney (Sean) and three grandchildren. Courtney, a former ECM associate, and family reside in Big Lake.

Asked to analyze his newspaper career to date and relate his biggest scoop, Bodley says it had to be when he was working for the West Essex Gazette newspaper. He remembers covering a huge fire at an ancient church in the village of North Weald.

“I recall running into the church helping get artifacts out of there,” he said. The church was destroyed. In those days, reporters reported, editors edited and photographers took pictures, he says.

Bodley continues to follow soccer worldwide, especially Leyton Orient in English League One, the team he has faithfully supported since the mid-1950s. He also likes to read, choosing Dick Francis and John Sandford thrillers. He also likes to walk. He hopes to expand all of those interests in his retirement.

Fellow workers gave Bodley a package of Kit Kat candy bars on a recent birthday. He said he grew up with them in Britain. The bars were made by Rowntree in England. In America, Hershey’s makes Kit Kats. He also confesses to liking Cadbury milk chocolate. He has a special place for his chocolate at work, convenient for his taking.

Bodley is also loved for his British accent which he has maintained but it has softened, he says. He says some people confuse him with an Australian.

Staffers talk about Peter Bodley

Let’s take a look at what some of Bodley’s fellow news staff members think of the managing editor of ABC Newspapers:

Eric Hagen — Having been in the community for 44 years, he has a wealth of knowledge not just about how buildings or streets developed, but of the people who were responsible for these actions. A policy I applaud Peter for is not naming a crime suspect until they have been charged by the Anoka County Attorney’s Office. Most publications name suspects after they are arrested, but what if the arrest was unjustified? Having a case be reviewed by the attorney’s office is one more check and balance. Although this can hurt us on a competitive standpoint with the daily news cycle, this is the fairest practice.

Peter is always willing to answer questions of newsroom staff even if he is in the middle of his own work. I constantly pepper him with questions and have never got the impression that he is annoyed.

Sue Austreng — Peter Bodley is the type of editor who leads by strong and diligent example, always looking out for the latest developments, the greatest human interest, and the most valuable stories for our readers. And then, with careful and accurate consideration, he assigns stories and photo ops to the staff person best able to pursue the sources, manage and translate the content, and communicate the news to our readers. Peter is also an elite multi-tasker and with fervor that never wanes, he covers a beat that, in his absence, requires five or more of his underlings to accomplish.

Jason Olson — I’d have to say in the short time I’ve worked with Peter, he’s been exceedingly helpful in terms of background information about a story or in providing feedback about a story. As a colleague, he’s the only other person in the office who cares about soccer, so we regularly share thoughts about the latest English Premier League games, especially the on-going World Cup.

Tim Hennagir, editor of the Monticello Times — “Peter is an outstanding editor” would be the gross understatement of the 20th Century and probably the rest of this century as well. No public policy, law enforcement or court issue can escape his knowledge banks when it’s question time. When I worked for a competitor newspaper, we would always grab the ABC Newspapers that came into our office in Robbinsdale and start tallying up Peter’s stories for the week. Our jaws would quickly drop in amazement.  We called the exercise the “The Bodley Count.”  As an editor, he’s a great colleague and sounding board to have in the newsroom.

We will never see anybody like this again. He’s that good. Coon Rapids is well covered by Peter: crime, city and overall product. As a competitor, I have not seen anyone better. He’s a virtual copy machine. He has such respect from his sources. He’s built relationships and that’s gold in our bank. Peter has the respect of leaders in his community. He is a most effective communicator.

Mandy Moran Froemming — Every single one of us benefits from Peter’s longevity, both with the company and reporting on the communities covered by the ABC Newspapers publications. Every day we tap into his encyclopedic knowledge and memory of the people and events we cover.

In his editing, that institutional knowledge makes all of our stories better. He is able to clarify and add background on so many things.

He is well respected by staff, as well as the community and his many regular sources. You can tell, because when he puts a call out for information, he rarely has to wait long before a source gets back to him. It is an illustration of that respectful source/reporter relationship. He has also developed a strong working relationship with the fire and police departments in Coon Rapids, and as a result he breaks many, many stories and can quickly find out any information he needs.

Peter is patient and gives us plenty of space to manage our time, develop stories and pursue the parts of our jobs we are most interested in and excel at. He has an eye for detail that I can only hope to acquire some day. His productivity is astounding – I have never worked for or with anyone who is able to accomplish what he does in a day, while juggling such a variety of responsibilities. Just sitting a few feet away from Peter I have gleaned many tips and tricks about government and crime reporting – I believe his two greatest strengths.

Elyse Kaner, former ABC staffer — Superlative. A mentor to the “nth” degree. Peter is kind and one of the most well-mannered people I know, a throwback to the chivalrous days when men opened doors for women, or, nowadays, in our close-quarter cubicles, steps aside to let the woman squeeze by first, which Peter always does. Peter is a tea-sipping, circumspective, omniscient individual who leads with quietude and grace. In short, he’s special!