On the passing of Ed Vogel

Ed Vogel loved people.

That made him different from many journalists.

Ed Vogel loved human interest stories.

That made him different from many capital bureau chiefs.

Ed Vogel loved to travel around Nevada.

That made him different from most urban state reporters.

Ed Vogel was different. And that’s part of why he has been so missed from Nevada journalism for the past year and why his passing this weekend at the age of 66 is a reminder that it sometimes takes a character to write well about other characters.

Ed was certainly that, a one-of-a-kind bundle of energy who would spice up news conferences by suddenly shouting at the elected official some tough question while looking off to the side as if to say,” Hey, don’t blame me for asking. It’s my job!”

But that wasn’t where Vogel was most at home, grilling lawmakers in the Legislative Building, which he patrolled for nearly 30 years. Politics and government were hardly his passion; he left the heavy lifting and probing to his longtime capital bureau colleague, Sean Whaley, who is still there and penned this beautiful remembrance of Vogel’s tenure almost exactly a year ago when he retired.

Vogel was interested in the odd, the unfamiliar, the quirky. He wanted to write about the Legislative Building’s groundskeeper, not the political ground shifting in the state Senate. He wanted to visit small towns many in Nevada never heard of to pursue some interesting folklore or tall tale he had heard about. He wanted to write about people, not policy.

And he did for nearly four decades.

Ed and I were never close friends, but we always liked each other and shared a common love of University of Michigan sports. (He came from Michigan, and we both went to school there.)

When I started at the Review-Journal in 1984, Ed sat right in front of me in the newsroom. I still hear the echoes from those days and later in the bowels of the state Capitol of his making a phone call and greeting the recipient with his signature, “Hi. I’m Ed Vogel.”

Back in the mid-1980s, Vogel wrote a weekly feature for the RJ called “People,” which was always prominently played and well read.  They were often stories out of the wide swath of rural Nevada between Las Vegas and Reno, brimming with fascinating details that brought the subjects to life. Vogel had a knack for finding what was interesting about someone and then allowing that person to tell his or her own story.

In those days, Vogel had one other kind of piece he loved to write – weather stories. As you can imagine, in Vegas those were mostly about how hot it was or was going to be. And Vogel loved the idea that records might be set every summer.

Which brings me to my favorite Ed Vogel story, one I have told many times. I decided to punk him one day in 1985 as he was repeatedly checking with the National Weather Service to see if a record had been set in Laughlin, NV, a steaming Colorado River gambling burg.  So I dummied up a fake wire report, complete with a quote from the NWS spokesman Vogel had been calling, saying a record had been set the previous day.

I sent the story to the city editor, Charles Zobell, and sat back and waited for him to see it. It worked better than I could have imagined.

A few minutes later Zobell looked up from his computer and said to Vogel, “Ed, have you seen this?”

Vogel got up from his desk and walked over to Zobell’s computer. He began to read and suddenly Mt. Vogel erupted. “I talked to that guy yesterday," Vogel fumed. "He didn’t tell me about that.”

He was yelling, his face was turning crimson and I began to fear for his health. I began waving my arms at Zobell to let him know I had pulled off a practical joke and he told Vogel,” Ed, I think this is a joke.”

“It’s no joke,” Vogel screamed. “This is just wrong.”

I still remember: I actually had to get up, put my arm around Vogel and persuade him I had made up the story to have fun with him. His anger soon subsided and, being Vogel, he had a good chuckle.

That story doesn’t just bring a smile to my face after all these years but reminds me how much Vogel cared about the business. Yes, he wanted to delve into the people that make Nevada what it is. But he also wanted to be first on the stories on his beat, and if he weren’t, he would be as furious as any reporter would be.

Vogel just cared. That was obvious to anyone who watched him work. And I feel privileged to have had a close-up look sitting at the desk behind him in the RJ newsroom until he left for Carson City shortly after I arrived.

He hadn’t been there long when he provided me an opportunity to cover the Legislature for the first time. I had been promoted to be the political reporter in mid-1986 but had no plans to go to Carson City to cover the ’87 session. But Vogel became ill with a kidney ailment that would plague him for the rest of his life, and I had to take his place in the capital for the last three weeks of that session.

(Vogel and I talked a lot about kidney problems during the ensuing years. It was something besides Ann Arbor sports that we had in common because I had had a kidney transplant in 1983.)

Vogel and I saw each other regularly over the next couple of decades as I made frequent sojourns to Carson City. He always seemed to be smiling, always wanted to chat about Michigan or some crazy political happening. And we also spent some time together at a Lake Tahoe fundraiser in 1997 that I still remember vividly.

The guest of honor was former President Gerald Ford and Vogel and I chatted with him on the lawn about the upcoming Michigan football season.  Ford had played football for the Wolverines and was eager to talk to two fans about the team’s prospects.

I remember Vogel and I were vehement that the team was not going anywhere, that this would be a down year. But Ford told us that the Wolverines would win the national championship.

They did, and Vogel and I shook our heads about that for many years to come. That memorable chat with a prescient ex-president was a bond we shared.

I knew Vogel had not been doing well the last few years because of a variety of ailments. He would grab me once in awhile in the hallway and talk to me about it, most memorably and heartbreakingly last session when he told me, “I’m going to die, Jon.” He explained that he didn’t want any more treatments, that he knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He said it almost matter-of-factly, even with a hint of that smile he brought everywhere.

Still, this weekend’s announcement of his death came as a shock. I am sure Vogel wouldn’t have wanted much of a fuss made about his death. But as the tributes poured in on social media, including from the governor and many other elected officials along with his legion of media colleagues who were touched by him, I thought that Ed Vogel would at least have appreciated the appreciation of one of the true characters of Nevada.



A great tribute. I truly enjoyed Ed, as did my father, who supplied him with lots of weather data and stories over the years. Ed wrote a great piece on my father's passing that I'll never forget. His approach to interviewing and writing was so unique--Nevada will miss him, as will I.