By Pashtana Usufzy
The Working Press
Robert Leger could barely hold back the tears that welled up as the Society of Professional Journalists presented him with the Wells Memorial Key during Saturday night’s 2012 President’s Installation Banquet.
As the crowd gave him a standing ovation, he waved for everyone to sit.
“I was just, I’m overcome,” he said, holding the lapel pin as his colleagues surrounded him.
Leger, assistant editorial page editor at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, was president of the national SPJ organization in 2002-2003. He is now president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board, having been a member since 2000.
“It was a good period when he was president of SPJ,” said Todd Gillman, a former Region 8 director who has known Leger for years. “It’ll be a great period when he’s president of SDX.”
Leger showed a commitment to move the organization forward when it was not easy, said John Ensslin, SPJ immediate past president, who presented Leger with the award.
“He was a good leader to have during that period,” Ensslin said.
Newly elected SPJ President Sonny Albarado said Leger’s service and character made him the obvious nominee. Albarado was one of four voters who selected the winner, voting alongside Ensslin, Dave Cuillier, newly elected president-elect andNeil Ralston, vice president for Campus Chapter Affairs.
“He is just one of the best SPJ people I know,” Albarado said.
The Wells Memorial Key honors Chester B. Wells, the second national president of SDX. Wells’ dedication to the organization inspired members to award a jeweled key every year to a member who demonstrated outstanding service to the organization. Ensslin said the recipients are people who have devoted a lot to the organization.
Leger’s peers say he exemplifies that type of service.
“If we didn’t have him, this would have been a much lesser institution,” Gillman said.
Leger said he felt honored to have his service recognized by SPJ.
“Those of us who give to it, we get so much more than we give,” Leger said.
By the time people have served SPJ for as long as he has, he said, they simply aren’t thinking about awards.
“Nobody does it because you get a Wells Key,” he said.
Leger, the first Hispanic president of SPJ, has built a reputation as a calm and reasoned person, Albarado said.
Chris Vachon, SPJ’s associate executive director, said Leger isn’t the kind of person to tell funny stories about. She said Leger is just a nice guy.
“He has a big heart,” Vachon said.
Gillman joked that when Leger isn’t busy playing his guitar or making “the best enchiladas,” he devotes his time to mentoring younger journalists and bettering SPJ.
“He’s one of those guys who really make this organization tick and has for many, many years,” Gillman said.
“We look to him for wisdom and guidance, and he just has it,” he said.