I’m not a reporter — like our dear friend and former Dallas Morning News copy desk colleague Christopher Wienandt, I’ve been a copy editor for many years. But I started my career as a sports writer, have always had a passion for writing and still try to make my own opportunities.
When it looked like our COVID-, protest-, layoff- and attrition-strapped reporting staff wouldn’t have anyone available to write a proper obituary for Chris, my supervisor mentioned that if I volunteered to write one, we’d run it.
It was my honor to spend time before and after my editing shifts a couple of days late last week working on a feature obit for Chris. It would’ve been a disservice for us not to have a staff-written obit for him like countless other former DMN journalists have over the years.
So, here’s to Chris, whom we all admire, love, respect and will never forget.
By FRANK CHRISTLIEB
He spent almost 40 years in the newspaper business and earned four degrees — only one of which had anything to do with journalism. He became a gifted and revered copy editor and was committed to the craft, defending the vital role of those who, like him, toiled in anonymity.
But actually, Chris Wienandt had another job in mind.
“I wanted to be an actor, and still do,” he told American Copy Editors Society co-founder Hank Glamann in 2005 for a newsletter profile when Wienandt became president of ACES. “But I think I was destined to be a journalist. I’ve always had a passion for language, a passion for knowledge and a passion for accuracy. That pretty much means becoming a journalist.”
Wienandt, a copy editor and copy desk chief for more than 30 years at The Dallas Morning News before retiring in May 2017, died of Parkinson’s disease Monday in Fort Worth. He was 68.
Wienandt was more than just a copy editor. He was an avid motorcyclist who joined a colleague on a trek to Mount Rushmore and rode his motorcycle cross-country to an ACES conference. He was a devotee of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which he took up in his 60s — and continued for several years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2014. He even joined a boxing group for Parkinson’s patients, determined not to let the disease knock him down.
Known for his ever-present wit, intellect and professionalism, Wienandt arrived at The News in the early 1980s and quickly took on a copy desk leadership role. He became respected for his focus on getting the printed word right, his grasp of endless subjects and his calm demeanor.
“I really had no right to be on his copy desk in 1981,” said Steve Kenny, a former News editor who’s now senior editor in charge of the newsroom at night at The New York Times. “I had been a reporter but never a copy editor. I had never even had a copy editing class in college. So Chris had to teach me everything at a time when I didn’t know my way around a stylebook. Those lessons have served me well for 40 years, and I would not have had the editing career that I’ve been blessed to have if I hadn’t fallen under his tutelage in 1981.
“Every lesson came with a wry crack or a joke,” Kenny said. “Early on, I wrote a headline about a ‘Looming crisis.’ He came over to me and said, ‘Steve, nothing looooms in The Dallas Morning News.’ Every time I see ‘looms,’ I think of Chris.”
Wienandt, who besides being a stickler for details could throw out puns with the best of ’em, was known for creating award-winning headlines. But he also knew when they crossed the line into being “groaners.” Wienandt served as president of ACES until 2010, and his “Headlines as Poetry” session was always one of the most popular at the group’s annual conference.
After his first few years at The News, Wienandt joined former colleague Beverly Bundy in Darmstadt, Germany, where they worked as journalists at Stars and Stripes. After returning to the States, they married in 1987 and had a son, Joe, in 1992.
Wienandt came back to The News in September 1986 and worked there until his retirement. He led the team of copy editors for the business news section for a number of years, and taught journalism classes at the University of North Texas and Texas Christian University.
“I remember my first day on the copy desk at The News,” said Joel Thornton, former copy chief who started at the newspaper in 1986. “After I learned the weird computer system, I was still unsure of my next move. But then a tall, friendly, laid-back guy with a professorial style helped put me at ease. Chris was a pro copy editor, and I learned a lot from him.”
In addition to his editing roles, Wienandt was an integral part of a team of “super users” who helped roll out a new content management system called CCI at The News in the early 2000s. In 2003, he was part of the original staff of Quick, a niche product geared toward 18- to 34-year-olds.
”As an editor, Chris championed clarity and battled cliches,” said longtime News copy editor Clay Morton. “And, to boot, he was one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Wienandt was a tireless advocate for copy editors, kicking off the 2008 ACES conference by telling attendees that they are “as essential to newspapers’ success as their stockholders are.”
As word of Wienandt’s death made its way around social media, tributes poured out among friends and former colleagues. They called him brilliant, classy, hilarious, kind, gentle, an inspiration, totally cool, a kindred spirit and a stalwart of copy editing.
“Renaissance man is a term used loosely, but Chris really did know at least something about seemingly everything,” said John Hanan, The News’ analytics editor, who was deputy copy chief in business news when Wienandt was that department’s copy chief. “On any given editing shift, you never knew whether he was going to quote Shakespeare, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields or Jim Morrison. He was one of a vanishing breed.”
Born in Iowa City, Iowa, and growing up with a father who became the longtime dean of the Baylor University graduate school of music and a mother who was a founding member of the Waco Symphony, Wienandt and his two younger siblings might have seemed destined to follow a musical path. But after piano lessons and playing the bassoon at Richfield High School, he pursued an undergraduate degree in German at Baylor, and then a master’s at the University of Iowa, also in German.
His sister, Linda Wienandt, who called him “absolutely brilliant,” remembers that while she was studying journalism at Baylor in the mid-1970s, she had an internship at the newspaper in Copperas Cove. She persuaded older brother Chris to take her place for the summer, and she believes that’s when the journalism bug bit him and drove him to get a second graduate degree, in international journalism, at Baylor.
He would later earn a doctorate in American literature at UNT. In his dissertation, Wienandt studied the newspaper career of author Mark Twain, arguing that Twain made the right decision when he chose to become a fiction writer.
As a youngster, his sister said, Wienandt enjoyed doing impressions and was pretty good at them — including Julia Child cooking sessions. “Years later, when Chris met Julia Child [twice], he behaved himself and found her charming,” said wife Beverly, who was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s food editor for 16 years.
As an adult, he did his version of actress Katharine Hepburn. In a Facebook tribute after his death, his sister-in-law mentioned that, when visiting her in California a couple of years ago, he showed off how his Parkinson’s “had really added nuance” to his impression of Hepburn, who didn’t suffer from Parkinson’s but had an ailment that caused tremors.
Wienandt’s wife said his sense of humor and mental sharpness were still evident when he died. While filling out a form to donate his body to the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, he told her, “They really want me.” His donation was the kind of farewell gift to science, she said, that he would encourage anyone to make.
Survivors include his wife, Beverly Bundy of Fort Worth; son, James Joseph Wienandt of Dallas; and sister, Linda Wienandt of Tempe, Ariz.