Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Richard Ager, storyteller

Rebecca Rule interviewed me recently for the New Hampshire Public Television author series. It was an honor to join a parade of authors that has included my poet friends Donald Hall, Wesley McNair, Maxine Kumin and Charles Simic, and writers Meredith Hall, Jody Picoult, Donald Murray and many more. When the program is edited and online, I’ll post a link to it on this blog.

Richard Ager in a familiar setting,
 in front of the New Hampshire State House. 
The afternoon at the Dimond Library on the UNH campus began on a sad personal note. I learned from Steve Giordani, a videographer at the station, that Richard Ager had died during the holidays at the age of 60. Ager, a native of Canada who immigrated to the United States in 1990, was a reporter at NHPTV for 18 years. In 2011, he moved on to work for Wyoming Public TV. Over the years in New Hampshire  I often ran into him at political events in Concord and elsewhere.

After my interview, Giordani shared some recollections of working with Ager, and what he said was no surprise. Even if they were working on a mundane budget story at the State House, Ager went the extra mile. “If you were working with Richard, you stayed until the last vote, no matter how late the session went,” Giordani said.

Preparation and persistence deepened Ager’s work. “I was always amazed how he could have a conversation with anyone, from heads of state to the local dairy farmer and always know exactly what the issues were,” Giordani said. If he thought a candidate was dodging him, he repeated the question.

One time, Ager’s desire to pursue a story exceeded Giordani’s limits. Their work on a documentary called “Who has seen the wind?” took them to North Carolina’s Outer Banks during Hurricane Dennis. As the eye of the storm passed over them, Ager tried to hire a pilot to take them up. No way, said Giordani. Ager said he’d take the camera and do the shoot himself. “Thank heavens all the pilots refused to fly,” said Giordani.

The two became close friends, and Giordani credits Ager with helping him win five New England Emmys as a videographer. “He always used to joke that he was going to write a book called The Care and Feeding of Your Videographer,” said Giordani. “I’d laugh, but it was true: He always took great care of me and all the people he came into contact with in his professional career."

My closest association with Ager came during two stories involving me for Outlook, NHPTV’s news magazine. The first was in 2001, when he interviewed Mark Travis and me about Col. Edward E. Cross and the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers shortly after the publication of My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth (you can see that story in the middle of the program here). Then, in 2008, when I left the Concord Monitor after 30 years, Ager and Geordani came out to Monique’s and my camp in Goshen to do a story on my retirement (video here near the end).

Ager was the consummate professional, studying his subjects and their work before interviews and putting the focus on them, not him. After leaving New Hampshire, he continued his career with a weekly interview show and occasional call-in show for Wyoming PBS. You can read his obituary here. One of his last interviews was with the historian David McCullough, and you can see that here.

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