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Remember Frank del Olmo, great Latino, great journalist

March 31, 2005
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

I hope that Latinos throughout Yolo County will be interested in reading "Frank Del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times" (Los Angeles Times, 2004, $26.95), a collection of material by the late L.A. Times columnist.

Of course, I hope that lots of people will be interested in reading his book, but since Del Olmo was a Latino and consistently wrote about Latino issues, I hope his work will find a like audience up here.

I know that the Woodland Public Library has a copy of the book and it also can be ordered on line.

I was carrying a copy of "Commentaries on His Times" the other morning when I stopped in a fast-food restaurant for coffee.

"What's your book?" asked the young man behind the counter.

I showed it to him.

"Sorry, I never heard of him," he said.

So, let me explain.

Frank del Olmo was a journalist. He grew up in a public housing project in the Los Angeles area.

He graduated magna cum laude from Cal State Northridge in 1970 with a journalism degree and went to work for The L.A. Times where he stayed for the next 34 years. He was always passionate about Latino issues.

At The Times, he was an intern, a staff writer specializing in Latino issues and Latin American affairs, an editorial writer, deputy editor of the editorial page, a Times-Mirror Foundation director and an assistant to the editor of The Times. His name was on the newspaper's masthead making him the first Latino to be listed among the paper's top editors.

Del Olmo began writing a column in 1980 and shared a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service for the series "Southern California's Latino Community."

I met him in the late 1970s in San Francisco at the press box at a Board of Supervisors meeting. I can't even remember why The Times sent him to cover the meeting or what the issue was, but I recall that a group of us went out to dinner that night and stayed loosely in touch for the next many years. Del Olmo used to teach at a summer workshop for minority journalists and I would see him in Berkeley every few years.

In 1994, he came to UC Davis to give a talk to a group of students. That was right before he broke with The Times over its endorsement of then-Gov. Pete Wilson for re-election. In his talk, he described how very upset he was with his bosses since he felt that Wilson was pandering to anti-immigration sentiment.

That Oct. 31, 1994, column, "A Dissenting Vote on the Endorsement of Pete Wilson," is included in the collection.

Del Olmo's talk at UCD didn't draw a very big crowd - the talk was held in one of the meeting rooms off the Memorial Union - but he made such good sense and was so proud of his profession that I was delighted some students got to hear him.

"Journalism is the first draft of history," he said. He said he'd never written anything that he wouldn't go back and improve if he had the opportunity. But you can't do that in daily journalism.

He also was one of the few men I ever knew who was completely comfortable wearing a suit and tie. And he had beautiful manners. "Private, quiet and courtly" were three words used to describe him and in a world where journalists in particular are none of the above, he was a rarity.

He married more than once but apparently found his soul mate in Magdalena Beltran-del Olmo, with whom he had a son, Frankie. Also included in the collection are 10 very personal columns about Frankie's battle with autism.

His wife, a former journalist, is the co-editor of "Commentaries on His Times" with Frank Sotomayor, a Times colleague.

Topics covered in his columns range from local politics, Mexico and Central America, journalism, immigration, music and sports.

I knew he was a baseball fan because a group of us went to a night game at Candlestick Park one summer many years ago. He dove for and nearly caught a foul ball in the stands and later complained bitterly that the freezing wind made a catch impossible.

But I didn't know that he was a Trekkie and a photo of Frank and Frankie in Star Trek costumes is one of the sweetest in the book.

Del Olmo was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University in 1987-88 and was inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Hall of Fame in 2002. In 1972, he was a founding member of the California Chicano News Media Association. He also won an Emmy Award for writing "The Unwanted," a 1975 documentary on illegal immigration.

He died of a heart attack at age 55 on Feb. 19, 2004. He was at his Times office that morning, planning to meet with Sotomayor later in the day to talk about Latino news coverage.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Frank del Olmo Memorial Scholarship Fund established by the California Chicano News Media Association and The Times. Paperback copies are $16.95. Orders may be placed online at www.latimes.com/FrankdelOlmo

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ] or phone 530-757-6127

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