A Life Well Spent

By Chris Mulder <mulders@mindspring.com>

Rating: PG

Submitted November 1999

Summary: A tribute to an L&C supporting character who rose from "occupying the bottom rung of the food chain" to lead a life well spent.



by M.L. Kent — Staff writer

James Bartholomew Olsen, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo-journalist, died at his home yesterday. He was 86. In a career which spanned nearly seven decades, Olsen stood out for his belief in the integrity of journalism, for his championship of humanitarian causes and for his assistance to many aspiring, young reporters. The world of journalism has lost a true leader.

Born and raised in Metropolis, New Troy, Olsen began his life-long connection with newspapers as a copy boy for the world-famous Daily Planet. Under the tutalage of Perry White, one of The Planet's most colorful and influential editors, Olsen advanced through the ranks from copy boy to research assistant, then photographer, until he finally found his niche as a photo-journalist. His photographs have appeared in every major newspaper around the world, and his writing has both informed and inspired his readers.

He often cited his early work with the famous investigative reporting team of Lois Lane and Clark Kent as a major factor in his decision to become a photo-journalist, asserting that their example was one he attempted to emulate when he was granted his own by-line. They remained life-long friends and when Olsen completed his autobiography, "To Fly With Eagles," in 2057, he dedicated the book to the then recently deceased Ms. Lane and to her husband, Clark Kent, for " … their help, patience and friendship to a younger me, who was probably underfoot, but who was never made to feel that way."

Contacted at his home in rural Kansas, where he has been living in seclusion since his wife's death, reporter turned novelist, Clark Kent, praised Olsen for all his achievements as a newspaperman, but was most forthcoming about the many charitable and humanitarian works for which his friend was responsible. "I have lost a true and dear friend," Kent said, "and the world has lost one of its heroes."

To the many young people who have benefited from his funding of the Perry White Memorial Scholarship Fund for Journalism Students (established with his Pulitzer Prize money), and to the people who have worked with Olsen throughout his career, he was a hero. The kind of hero the world sees all too infrequently, and he will be missed.

Olsen is survived by his two sons, Lane B. Olsen, an architect, and Kent P. Olsen, sports editor for the Daily Planet, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His wife and his only daughter were both killed in a car crash over 25 years ago. A private memorial service is planned for family and close friends only. Other funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but it is expected that Olsen's most famous friend, Superman, will make an appearance. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Perry White Memorial Scholarship Fund or to the Superman Foundation.

— DP City Desk // Submitted 05.08.2059 // Words=469


"This is great, Mel," my editor, Eduardo McLean, said, using the office nickname for me. I can usually tell whether or not I'm in his doghouse just by paying attention to which form of my name he uses. At the moment he was in a professional, but friendly, mode. "Thanks for doing this," he continued. "I know obits aren't exactly your beat, but …"

"It's okay, Chief," I assured him, hastily. "Uncle Jimmy was special to me … I don't mind. I just don't think I did him justice." I didn't add that writing it had been one of the hardest things I'd done in all my twenty-five years in the news business.

"Well," he admitted, "that would be tough. He was a heck of a guy. Got me this job, as you know and, if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't even be here."

"Buenos Aires?"

"Yeah. Pulled my ass out of the line of fire just in time. I don't know what I — " His voice was getting gruffer as he tried to hide his emotions. "Anyway, I'm gonna miss him. Just won't be the same place around here without him popping in to have a drink and a chat about old times."

"I know what you mean."

He looked up at that. I guess my voice, too, was giving away my own feelings.

"I'm sorry, Mel. I know he was special to you, and your parents. Thanks for getting this quote from your father, too. I know he doesn't like to be disturbed."

I had to smile at that. "Well, Dad doesn't actually equate my phone calls with those of the general public."

He grinned. "No, I guess he wouldn't at that." He looked down at my article again, lost in thought for a minute or two, and I wondered what he was thinking about. I was anxious to get out onto the streets of Metropolis and start working on my next story — the air in here was too heavily charged, and the memories of my Uncle Jimmy were too hard to suppress. Besides, it seemed to me that the best way to honor him would be to keep doing my job.

Ed looked up again. "You misspelled 'tutelage,' Kent," he pointed out, suddenly all business. "We do have spellcheckers on our computers you know."

"Sorry, Chief. I get that creative spelling gene from my mom."

"So I've been told," he replied in a long-suffering tone, but I could tell he was trying not to smile. He made use of his blue pencil to correct the offending part of my copy, but his mind had already moved on. "Do you think Superman will really be there? He stays pretty busy."

I thought back to my conversation with my Dad. He was taking this almost as hard as he'd taken Mom's death. Seconds after I'd called to give him the news, he'd been at my window. We'd held each other, and cried together, and then had spent hours talking over old times. It's so hard for him, watching all the people he cares about aging, and dying. Thank heavens, and my mother, for my older brothers and sisters and the grandkids. "Yes," I told Ed, "he'll be there. Dad won't though. He's not up to the trip."

"That's too bad. He'll be there in spirit, though, I'm sure."

I nodded, then rose from the big winged-back chair in his office. "Well, if that's all … ? I'd better get to the courthouse. My source over there has heard about some fines and sentences for drug-related offences that have mysteriously disappeared from the records. Looks like we could have the makings of a first-class judicial expose."

He was interested at once. "Really? Think somebody is altering the records in exchange for drugs?"

"More than just one somebody, Chief. And, from what I can gather, it's not because they want to use the drugs themselves, but because they're trying to get a piece of the local market."

He whistled, low and long. "Well, then, Kent … get to it!"

"Yes, sir!"

I turned to leave, but his voice stopped me. "Martha …" He said it softly, and I could hear the sadness creeping back in. I looked around at him once again, and he held up my article. "Thanks again for this. He would have approved of it. I know he would."

I'd been doing pretty well until then, but his sympathetic tone and his unexpected use of my given name got to me. Suddenly, I couldn't trust myself to speak so I just nodded an acknowledgement and headed for my desk, my briefcase, my keys and then for the door. I knew that if I didn't get out of there soon, I was going to lose it.

It was only when I'd reached the solitude of my car that I allowed myself to give into the grief again. Oh, God! Uncle Jimmy, I miss you so much!

There had been lots more I'd wanted to include in that article, but I couldn't. And, anyway, how can one adequately thank someone for being the kind of friend Jimmy Olsen had been to me? … to my family? It wasn't possible. It just wasn't. I had tried, though. I'd spent a lot of time with him these last few months, and I'd been at his house the day before he died. We'd talked some and watched the news together. He always wanted to watch the news. Just like Mom, I thought, and had to smile.

I wiped my face and blew my nose. Time to get to work, Kent! I could almost hear Mom saying it. Some days it truly feels as if she is still here, looking over my shoulder and urging me on to be more than I think I can be.

As I started up the car and got ready to face the rest of the day, my thoughts returned once more to James B. Olsen. Photo-journalist, humanitarian, Superman's pal … my friend.

Good job, Jimmy.