The Minnesota Senate on Monday honored a pair of veteran Capitol reporters whose dedication and years of service made them part of the institution they covered.
Star Tribune reporter Jim Ragsdale, also a longtime St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter and editorialist, died in November, one year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 64. Bill Salisbury, who covered politics and government for four decades, most of them at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, retired in December, although he’ll continue to work part-time.
Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who served in the Legislature since 1976, honored both men with special resolutions on the Senate floor. Before the chamber stood for a moment of silence in honor of Ragsdale, Cohen praised not only his special touch with the written word, but more importantly, his feel for the folks that made the Capitol such a special place.
Ragsdale, who continued to work following his diagnosis as long as his health would allow, loved to stand at the marble columns outside the Senate chambers before each floor session. Cohen once asked him why.
“He said ‘I like to look at the people. I like to have a sense of the ambience of the place,’” Cohen said. “It was almost poetic in the way he described the visual of this place. I get some of the same feelings at times, but he put it in a much better way. And it’s not just who he was, but the way he wrote.”
Ragsdale’s family, including his wife Mary, and children, attended the session. Afterward, his son Ben said that his father, as gentle and personable as he was clever, loved interacting with people. It's why he kept doing it as long as he could.
“Being a journalist was endlessly fascinating to him,” Ben Ragsdale said. “People were endlessly fascinating to him, and the work of the Minnesota Legislature, just of this building was fascinating to him. I think he wanted to stick around it.”
Salisbury, who retired as the senior member of the Capitol Press Corps, was known for a reputation for solid reporting and accuracy, combined with genuine enthusiasm for politics and the people who made things run--including his favorite subject, former Gov. Jesse Ventura.
“I can tell you as someone who’s been here for quite a while, we’re going to miss having Bill Salisbury as part of the Capitol Press Corps, and the fact that he retires as dean of the Capitol Press Corps is significant in and of itself,” Cohen said. “To have somebody of the quality of Bill Salisbury, of that competence and professionalism, spend all that time in this building doing the kind of reporting he does, is certainly something that should allow us to thank him, salute him and congratulate him.”
Over coffee and cake at a reception afterward, Salisbury reflected on the accolades.
“I’m embarrassed to admit I loved it,” he said. “But I also remember that politicians’ judgment of journalism are always suspect.”
Shortly afterward, Gov. Mark Dayton arrived and was surrounded by a scrum of reporters. Salisbury picked up his notebook and joined them.
Photo #1: Jim Ragsdale's family sits with Bill Salisbury at the Capitol. (Glen Stubbe, StarTribune)
Photo #2: Jim Ragsdale. (Courtesy photo)
Photo #3: Bill Salisbury. (Courtesy St. Paul Pioneer Press)