The first time I ran into Jim ‘Doc’ Conway was at the back of an ambulance.

The first time I ran into Jim ‘Doc’ Conway was at the back of an ambulance.

It was parked at the corner of the gridiron at Ralph Clements Field in?Dansville. Fall rain was beating down, making a miserable night for spectators and the local newspaper photographers trying to snap a decent photo.

A perfect night for high school football, however.

I was stringing for the Tribune then, and Doc was covering the game for his Genesee Country Express. We hit it off as we used the ambulance to blunt the wind, proving misery does indeed love company, and for the next few years our lives would intertwine professionally.

It was an ambulance that carried Doc to Noyes Memorial Hospital Monday, where as great a man as Dansville will ever see died in the emergency room. Doc was 81.

If you look hard enough in any community, no matter what its size, you’ll discover the handful of people who make it what it is. They might be bigshots — mayors, business owners, what have you — or they might be people like Doc, who cared so deeply about his home that he immersed himself in everything to help it along. No matter what the event, or cause, Dansville counted on Doc to get it in the paper.

It’s easy to eulogize most folks who have passed on. We get a little foggy eyed and remember the good deeds and let the not so good fade into the background. But even knowing this, I can’t think of Doc Conway in any way that does not describe him as a great man with a very big heart.

Doc was an emotional guy who took pains to not let it show. He suffered great tragedies in his life, and for those you need only read his obituary to gain a sense of what I mean, but didn’t let that pain color his world. He was quick to smile, and to laugh, and to find the humor in most everything.

I had the great privilege of working for Doc in his final year as editor of the Express. Doc was getting ready, finally, to retire and play golf full time. I was back from Ohio, full of myself and more arrogant than was necessary. I had the chance to take over a newspaper, it didn’t matter if it was a weekly or daily at that point, and I figured to politely listen to Doc for a few months and then do whatever I wanted.

Doc tolerated me well, and it helped that we had that shared experience of attending Mustang football games together, but I’m pretty sure I drove him nuts, too. I wanted to ‘fix’ a paper that hadn’t changed much since the 1950s. ‘You’ll get your chance,’ was his attitude — although he never actually came out and said it — ‘when I’m ready to give it to you.’

Working at the Express then was interesting, to say the least. Doc had his desk in one corner, an old typewriter at the center, while Al Wilson, a retired Democrat &?Chronicle reporter, nailed down the desk by the window. I had a spot within arms reach of both, and a woman nicknamed ‘Peach’ made copy and photos fit on the pages.

Doc would come in on any given morning and after a bit of rummaging around pull out a sheet of paper and crank it into the typer. Then he’d blast away, two fingers stitching letters into words and words into sentences. Then he’d pull the finished product out and hand it across the room. “Take care of this for me, would you Peach?”

The rest of us used computers, and Doc had one, too. Rick Kurtz, our publisher, would ask Doc once in a while how the transition to working on the computer was going and Doc would mutter something about it coming along just fine. One day while Doc was at lunch I looked under his desk and saw that he hadn’t even plugged it in.

I smile now thinking about that, and about how Doc would call his wife, Claudette, a little before noon on many days. “Move the cats, Claudette, I’m coming home,” he’d say, confirming scuttlebutt that the Conways had the fattest cats in?Dansville, well-fed animals that lounged on the Conway driveway with little regard for their owner’s car.

After Doc’s retirement I got my big chance to wake up the Express, but it didn’t last long. Dansville wasn’t my town, the way it had been for Doc, and eventually?I went on to other things. Doc enjoyed retirement to the fullest, and we saw each other at Lions Club meetings. “How are things at the paragraph factory?” he’d ask, and we’d review the troubles of the world over a drink.

When I took over at the Express I tried to talk Doc into continuing his column, ‘The Bystander,’ but he wanted no part of it. I think it was the only way he could walk away.

So Doc Conway typed “Have a good day and a nice forever” a final time and with that became a treasured part of Dansville history.