Nothing but respect for Rotch

Is there anyone in the Souhegan Valley over a certain age who didn’t know Bill Rotch, or in so very many cases, hasn’t worked for Bill Rotch?

If you were a reader of The Cabinet anytime from the mid-1940s to the early 2000s, you’ve read his columns or his editorials, and a few decades ago, his stories about the Milford Board of Selectmen. Sure, Bill was The Cabinet’s editor, but like so many small-town newspaper editors, he wore at least two hats. At least.

Even if you didn’t read his work, you ran into him around the Oval, and Bill was hard to miss. He wasn’t a particularly big man, but he just somehow always stood out. He was just so New England, so New Hampshire. He looked like people who live here should in some ways that is hard to define, but in a way that you know it when you see it.

Bill had, in some ways, a difficult job being the editor of a paper that had been in the family since the early 1800s. He was carrying the torch, and people expected certain things from him ,and they looked at him, sometimes, through the eyes of the past.

“Well, his dad never would have written it that way.”

Years later, after Bill had stepped down as editor, people in the area looked at succeeding editors in the same way.

“Well, Bill Rotch never would have written it that way.”

Even after Bill and his wife, Patty, had sold the paper to his daughter, Martha, and her husband, Frank Manley, people still thought of it as Bill’s paper or the Rotch family’s paper. And, to his credit, Frank Manley, who was the publisher after the sale, never resented that, because he knew how people felt about Bill.

As was the case with all newspaper editors, Bill had strong opinions. But unlike some newspaper editors, Bill had a mild, calm, almost friendly way of expressing those opinions.

Bill didn’t want to make readers angry, but he did want them to ponder whatever subject it was that he approached. He felt that if it was worth writing about, it was worth thinking about, and that was important to him, that was a huge part of the mission of The Cabinet: to get people to think, especially to think before they acted.

Indeed, when Bill endorsed someone for public office, it was in a way that reminded readers of living room conversations. He often started his endorsement editorials with, “Patty and I will be voting for …” and you knew that he and Patty had discussed this, and then he went on to explain why they had reached their decision.

You could certainly disagree with a Bill Rotch editorial, but you never came away feeling in any way disrespected.

Bill Rotch respected his readers as readers and as people. That respect was invariably returned.

His death last week is a loss to all of us.