Steve Sack is best known from Minnesota to France (and no doubt beyond) as a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist — a master of his craft for more than four decades. But for those of us at Star Tribune Opinion, he's been so much more.
We move through our daily schedule of meetings, interviews and deadlines caught up in a swirl of social media posts, website updates and page proofs. It's virtual work now, for the most part, and making the human connection is even more difficult. Yet there were some teary eyes when Steve told our team, over video, that he had decided to retire after 42 years with the Star Tribune.
When the call ended, the memories came flooding back. Office conversations about Netflix series, Dylan concerts, raising sons, aging parents. A colleague mentioning how Steve encouraged her interest in painting, even providing supplies. More good days than bad, and lots of laughs, especially after Steve would return from one of his somewhat mysterious cartoon festivals in the French countryside, where he was once honored with a porcelain cow.
Steve is responsible for two of my top journalism memories — in 2013, when a group of us were on hand to see him accept his Pulitzer in New York, and in 2018, when he won a Minnesota Book Award for "The First and Only Book of Sack." He deserved the attention but, true to Minnesota form, remained remarkably humble about those honors and the dozens of others he's received over the years.
"Basically, my job description is to read the paper, crack a joke, draw a picture and turn it in," he once said. That's far from the whole story. Steve's cartoons were the product of extensive reading, conversations with colleagues, and some of the most creative doodling ever done around a conference table or in a cubicle as he weighed options for the next day's cartoon.
Before the end of the workday, he would turn those sketches into mini-masterpieces displaying what the Pulitzer judges called his "original style and clever ideas to drive home his unmistakable point of view." Those viewpoints sometimes attracted critics, and more than once I overheard him on the phone patiently explaining to callers that they were entitled to their opinions, and so was he.
There are far more fans, though, and we've been reminded of that as Steve has been unable to draw in recent weeks following surgery. Many of you have inquired about his status, often genuinely concerned about your favorite cartoonist.
Steve details what led to his decision to retire in a companion piece that's both an explanation and a thank-you note. He has earned this next chapter — one not tied to the day's news and the need to deliver a piece of art and commentary that satisfies readers and meets his own high standards.
Another staff cartoonist may succeed Steve at the Star Tribune, although a decision on whether to fill the position has not yet been made, and for now we'll use cartoons from around the country. But there will never be another Sack. Our team will miss him, and we know readers will, too.
If we're lucky, there may be a reunion of sorts at some point. Our inventory of "The First and Only Book of Sack" is running low, and Steve has a standing invitation to update his story and cartoon collection in a new edition. No pressure, my friend.
Scott Gillespie is editorial page editor of the Star Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.