Lifting up and pressing on: Mourning, celebrating The Capital

As survivors related by blood, marriage or ink at The Capital cope with loss and trauma, their community came out Saturday to root for them, on a day made festive by food and music.

On- and off-duty journalists were there, but this was largely a music festival crowd cheering for the press. People paid $25 or $30 to hear Good Charlotte, which has Maryland roots, and more than a half-dozen other bands.

The get-together — organized quickly and expertly by the city — was called Annapolis Rising. It was a benefit to honor The Capital after five of its employees were shot to death in their newsroom on June 28. It also paid tribute to police, fire and EMS agencies that responded almost instantly to the call.

This was a community wrapping its arms around its own a month later, with grief still fierce and fresh. (Read Andrea Chamblee’s raw account in The Washington Post of what happens when a wife finds out her husband has been shot, then is dead, and her mind and heart nosedive.)

Speaking on stage during one of the more somber moments, the children of Wendi Winters — who died after confronting the gunman — said this was an event their mother would have loved and would have been covering.

Chamblee said plainly that her husband, John McNamara, would not have been there. He would have been tired from the grind of covering government and elections.

 

Andrea Chamblee, talking about her late husband, John McNamara

 

There were so many moments of sorrow and inspiration on Saturday:

Relatives received a flag flown over the State House a few blocks away. Mayor Gavin Buckley invited people to hug a first responder, then followed his own advice as he gave medals on stage.

 

Mayor Gavin Buckley (left) before he gives medals to representatives from police, fire and EMS agencies

 

A heart projected onto the side of a parking garage contained the names of the five victims — John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen and Gerald Fischman.

 

On the parking garage next to the Annapolis Rising stage

 

After selling more than 2,000 “Press On” Annapolis-themed T-shirts, the creator donated $35,000 to a fund to benefit the victims’ families.

 

A $35,000 donation from proceeds of the sale of “Press On” T-shirts

 

Capital reporter Selene San Felice urged people to live the spirit of togetherness for more than a day or a week or a month. Editor Rick Hutzell reminded mourners not to forget about other tragic deaths.

 

Rick Hutzell (left), editor of The Capital, with his staff and Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara

 

Throughout the day, there was a wave of support for journalism at large and the ideals of a free press.

“A town without a newspaper is not a community,” said Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

 

Lucy Dalglish

 

“When you attack a hometown newspaper, you attack the heart of America,” U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes said.

 

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes

 

Comedy Central host Jordan Klepper recalled the branches of his family tree filling different roles at his hometown paper.

 

Jordan Klepper

 

Olivier Knox of SiriusXM, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, quoted the confirmation email he received after subscribing to The Capital.

 

Olivier Knox

 

Even the politicians who aired ill-timed jabs at the paper (it sometimes gets things wrong; it is sometimes biased) concluded with messages of support.

“Now, journalists don’t do this work for the pay,” Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, told the crowd. “Rarely does it pay a lot. They don’t do this work for the hours. The hours are awful, disruptive to ordinary life. There’s nothing elite or elitist about their lives.

“They do this work because they believe firmly in all citizens’ right and duty to understand their community and their country, and they want to fill that essential role in civic life. They do it in service of the glorious opportunity granted to us in the Constitution to participate in our democracy.

 

Marty Baron

 

“Today, we must do more than reflect on the horror of June 28th and the overwhelming sorrow in losing Rebecca, Wendy, John, Rob and Gerald. This is an occasion to reflect also on what this country’s founders gave future generations. They gave us a precious gift — the right of free expression and the right to a free and independent press, what James Madison called ‘the only effectual guardian of every other right.’

“Today, we remember five people who put those ideals into practice. I hope we will also remember the people who, at The Capital and elsewhere, share those five individuals’ spirit and sense of purpose and who carry on the work they loved. They continue to do work that this community and this country still needs.”

Near the end of the night, the crowd had swelled and was jubilant as Good Charlotte gave its own tribute, rocked for a while and promised to come back every year for a similar celebration.

 

Good Charlotte, the headline band at Annapolis Rising

 

For 10 hours, Maryland’s capital city put journalism and the newspaper it knows on a pedestal. What a day.


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