This is the first time in a half-century The Tablet was published without having Ed Wilkinson as one of its employees. He retired Monday, September 21, 50 years to the day he was hired by The Tablet in 1970. For half a century — as a reporter, sports columnist, news editor, editor-in-chief, and editor emeritus — he has been a constant presence in the paper.
For 33 of those 50 years, from 1985 to 2018, he was the editor-in-chief. During those decades, turbulence abounded inside and outside the Church. But he made The Tablet a reflection of a diocese that went from being primarily composed of immigrants from Europe to a tapestry of representation from around the world.
In April 2020, The Tablet arrived at its 112th anniversary. There are many interesting facts about the paper’s history, but there is one that I find particularly fascinating. During the 103 years and four days between Sep. 17, 1917 and Sep. 21, 2020, you could find either the name of Patrick Scanlan or Ed Wilkinson in The Tablet with the exception of two years, three months and seven days between the last day of Scanlan’s tenure — June 14, 1968 — and the day Ed Wilkinson was hired — Sep. 21, 1970.
Patrick Scanlan had been a seminarian before coming to The Tablet — as was Ed Wilkinson. Scanlan came to the paper in 1917 as a temporary editor. Joseph Cummings, the editor at the time, had left to join the Army during World War I. Cummings died the following year as one of the 50 million victims of the Spanish Flu, and Scanlan became the permanent editor during that pandemic.
Ed Wilkinson retired in the middle of another pandemic more than one century later. Both Scanlan and Wilkinson wrote without fear about the most controversial issues of the day and in defense of the Church and Catholic community. And both were ready to pay a literal price for it.
In 1921, Scanlan was offered a position in the Hearst Corporation for $100 a week. He was making $25 at The Tablet but refused to leave. During the last half-century, Ed Wilkinson received many attractive propositions but stayed in Brooklyn at The Tablet.
You could say Wilkinson is a man from a different era, but there is a simpler and better explanation — he couldn’t imagine himself away from The Tablet, or Brooklyn, because he was always happy here.
He is not from a different era — he stayed at The Tablet to define an era.
And he did.
There are also marked differences between the two men. Scanlan was accused, not always without cause, of anti-Semitism. He was known as a fierce critic of our brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations. Wilkinson has been a builder of bridges (a pontifex!) at The Tablet — you could say that in both senses of the Latin word.
We all know his ecumenic spirit and the solidarity he has shown for the Jewish community.
What you could find most admirable about Ed is his rare combination of gifts. He is smart beyond reason and knows more about Brooklyn and the diocese than any person alive today, but you’d never know it until you asked him about things you couldn’t find through Google.
He is the most serious person you could find, but I don’t remember one conversation with him where he didn’t make me laugh with his fine sense of humor. And that sense of humor is there in the worst moments.
His smile — so often in his face — is a persistent reminder of his faith and his courage. Yes, faithful and courageous, I would say, if you asked me for two words to define him.