The Day never had a better reporter than Bill Toscano
Words are difficult to summon sometimes, even for those of us who do words daily. This is a hard one. What do you say, really, about the passing of the person who taught you how to do your job?
We lost William Donovan Toscano last week to COVID-19. He died in Framingham, Mass. at 61. The Day has sent several alums to bigger papers and media outlets. But never — ever — has it had a better reporter.
Billy knew everybody. Everybody knew Billy. And that's why he was so good at this. No surprise he became a teacher after he left The Day. Perhaps not even he ever knew what a splendid teacher he was as a journalist.
My first days here — late 1991 — were among Bill's last. He would go on to teach in several schools, including Ledyard High. Teaching requires people skills and a flair to perform. Nobody did it better.
Bill and I covered several games together, including many American Legion baseball state tournaments at Palmer Field in Middletown and New London High's 1991 and '92 state championship football wins over Ansonia. Turns out Yogi was right when he said "you can observe a lot by watching." I would sit in the press box and watch the game. Billy would not sit at all, preferring to make the rounds and talk to everybody.
He'd emerge from the game with a dozen other story ideas inspired by his many conversations. He never told me this directly — he never had to — but whether reporter or columnist, you do this job best by talking to absolutely everybody and knowing a little about a lot.
If Billy ever taught journalism, he'd have been a lot like Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society." Remember the scene when Mr. Keating (Williams) asks the students to read "Understanding Poetry" by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard? Mr. Keating mocks the bookish, hyper-technical babble with the word, "excrement."
"How can you describe poetry like you're on American Bandstand?" Mr. Keating says. "'I like Byron, I give him a 42, but you can't dance to it.'"
The kids chuckle. And then Mr. Keating asks the kids to rip the page from the textbook.
That was Billy. Journalism has no textbook. Once one masters subject-verb agreement, it becomes about people. It is about forming relationships with them. Getting them to talk to you and trust you. It's not always easy. Sometimes, as William Randolph Hearst's timeless line goes, "news is something somebody wants to suppress."
Sometimes, it's what late New York Times columnist David Carr said: "You go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it."
That was Bill's enduring lesson to me. I tell our young reporters that you cannot do this job chained to a desk all day. They need to be in their towns and on their beats where people congregate. Find coffee shops, barber shops, salons and gin mills. Park yourself in there and talk to everybody. When they see you care, they'll start talking. Then you'll know everything.
I see Bill's face in my head almost daily when someone will see me drinking coffee at Muddy Waters in New London while everyone else is "working." They'll ask, "don't you work?' I respond, "this IS work."
Bill is the only guy who has ever been part of The Day's history who could write 1,000 words apiece on the Yale-Harvard Regatta's freshmen race, junior varsity race and varsity race. And do it in about 30 minutes. He covered Waterford Speedbowl, high schools and local road races, showing me exactly how this job gets done passionately.
He was also our comic relief. Billy could always pinch more than an inch. In the old days here, Don Thompson and Don Cawley would call him "Boy Gorge," "The Guru of Girth" and other things unprintable. Billy would just laugh, taking it all in the intended spirit.
We lost touch after he left the region. I knew he worked for a while at a newspaper in Glens Falls, N.Y., but had no idea he became immersed in The Society for Creative Anachronism, a historical research and recreation group pursuing the re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat and culture. He was known there as "Liam St. Liam," which belied his proud Italian heritage from Westerly, where he was known as "Tusky."
I never really thanked him for a blueprint to 30 wonderful years here now. People who don't know The Day don't understand that our business model, mission and true, blue passion for where we live makes us different. Agree or disagree with our words, but this much is true: We really do care.
And that was never embodied better than through Bill Toscano. One of the most important and memorable people ever to walk through our front door.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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