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Nick Grabbe, longtime Amherst editor, reporter, retires

Nick Grabbe, who has been instrumental in delivering the news to the town he calls home as an editor and reporter, retires this week after 32 years.

“I’ve always seen newspaper work as one way of servicing the community and being involved in the community,” Grabbe said. “I’ve enjoyed that.” (A retrospective column by Grabbe appears on Page A4.)

Grabbe came to the Amherst Bulletin as editor in October 1980 after working as a copy editor at five daily newspapers and as editor of Worcester Magazine and the Valley Advocate.

When he was hired, the Bulletin was one of four newspapers based in Amherst, along with the Amherst News, Amherst Record and Valley Advocate, Grabbe said. By the end of the 1980s, the Bulletin had gone from tabloid to broadsheet, and had a staff of 11 full-time employees.

In 1999, Grabbe stepped down as Bulletin editor, when the responsibilities of that position were merged with those of the Amherst area news editor for the Gazette. Grabbe remained editor of the Bulletin commentary page through 2008.

“Nick has been an important part of our reporting team in Amherst for more than 30 years,” said Gazette publisher Jim Foudy. “We all appreciate his contribution to our news coverage and wish him all the best in retirement.”

During his more than three-decade career in the Valley, Grabbe covered news in Amherst, Hadley, Leverett and Shutesbury, and wrote in-depth pieces about religion, the environment and real estate.

The stories that are memorable to him run from hard news to features. In 1989, he wrote a piece comparing the salaries of municipal and school officials, discovering that in Amherst the school employees made more money.

A 1992 feature was composed entirely of bumper-sticker slogans found on vehicles in Amherst. In 2007 he wrote a piece about dog names in Amherst, Easthampton and Northampton and analyzed what this said about pet owners in the three communities.

One news highlight, Grabbe said, was a 1994 expose on Amherst stores selling cigarettes to minors. Eight years later, he wrote a challenging profile of William Elsasser, an Amherst resident diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Grabbe covered most of the big weather events of the last two years, such as Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and the Halloween snowstorm in October 2011.

“I’ve been a fan of weather all my life. I really like weather anomalies,” Grabbe said.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones said she appreciates how perceptive Grabbe is in his writing, noting a 2007 article in which he described her as she waited to speak at a meeting.

Grabbe wrote, “While supporters of land-use restrictions were speaking at a Town Hall meeting, a woman wearing jeans was patiently waiting for her turn to speak in opposition. Sitting in the back of the room, with her boots propped on a chair, she was reading a copy of ‘Bitch’ magazine. Her name is Cinda Jones.”

“Today I use Nick’s introduction of me from that article in my unofficial bio on Facebook, and it’s on my office wall,” Jones said. “As unflattering as the characterization may seem to some, I think it’s wicked cool and it captures my personality perfectly.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Grabbe spent nine years at St. Albans School, the Episcopalian school affiliated with the National Cathedral. Future vice president Al Gore was a student there at the same time, Grabbe said. After attending all-male schools for 11 years, in 1969 he became one of the first men to enroll at Vassar College, where he was a member of the same class as actress Meryl Streep.

Grabbe, who has lived in Amherst since 1984, said he has an enduring affection for the town.

“I like the combination of interesting things to do and the interesting people, while it’s not a city,” Grabbe said. “I decided early in my career that I didn’t want to live in the city. A town like Amherst provides the best of both worlds.”

Grabbe has been married to Betsy Krogh for 33 years and is the father of two sons, Ben, 30, who lives in a supervised group home on Chestnut Court and walks with him to Jones Library each Saturday, and Alex, 26, the executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.

He is also a practitioner of simple living.

“We try to find fulfillment in things that don’t cost money, books from the library, visiting friends, watching television without cable,” Grabbe said.

He cares for two large vegetable gardens, one at home and the other near Amethyst Brook, scavenges wood to feed the woodstove and makes efforts to achieve a low carbon footprint, often using a bicycle to get around.

Grabbe said he began compiling a list of things to do in retirement four years ago.

He plans to volunteer at the Amherst Survival Center and take a Shakespeare class.

“I want to read works by Tolstoy, Dickens ... play more chess, tennis and pingpong, and learn yoga,” Grabbe said.

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