When big news broke, Timmins was there
What do the following topics have in common?
The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The gay rights fight in the Episcopal Church. The lives of lifers at the state prison. The brief reign of House Speaker Bill O’Brien.
Also these: Casino gambling. New Hampshire police officers shooting people with mental illness. Hell’s Angels at Motorcycle Week. A capital murder case in which the guilty man was spared the death penalty. The rape of a local woman by traveling magazine salesmen.
And these: The Northern Pass hydroelectricity project. The woeful state of New Hampshire’s psychiatric care system. A white supremacist gang. An outrageous candidate for state Senate. A con man extraordinaire.
Together they represent some of the most significant news stories in New Hampshire over the past two decades. And they were all reported and written by Annmarie Timmins, an exemplary journalist who is leaving us after more than 20 years on the beat.
When there was something important to report over the past two decades, Monitor editors regularly turned to Timmins. Her work brought her into town halls and police stations, the State House and the state prison. She covered court cases galore – and often successfully argued her own motions for access to court documents or proceedings. Once in a while, her work was fraught with danger; just last month, for instance, a scare from an extra-creepy inmate necessitated help from the local and state police.
Most Monitor reporters arrive here from elsewhere, work hard for a few years and then land at some of the nation’s leading metropolitan newspapers. Timmins, who is as good as all of them, stayed here.
Her readers, who have relied on her for tough, thorough, smart, dedicated reporting on anything and everything exciting and important, were the beneficiaries. But to her many, many friends and colleagues from the Monitor newsroom, past and present, Timmins has been far more than a byline. They describe a reporter generous with her time and advice, eager for a good caper and a good story. They call her a role model, particularly in a newsroom typically full of young women.
Mike Pride, the newspaper’s former longtime editor, spent a year back on the reporting staff before his retirement. “I asked Annmarie for help with sources on my very first story and went back to that well again and again,” he recalls. “Why start from scratch when Annmarie knew the right person to call on every local subject?”
A missing mummy, a sketchy park
Many describe Timmins as the best reporter they know and note that she took every assignment seriously. Want some proof? Longtime readers will recall how doggedly she stuck with the peculiar story of Concord’s missing mummy baby a few years back. A mystery, by the way, that has not yet been solved.
Several colleagues describe Timmins as a reporter who, despite a sweet demeanor, was surprisingly fearless. Remember when O’Brien barred her from attending a press conference, and she made a video of the door slamming in her face? Or how about her trip to a particularly sketchy park with former Monitor photographer Ken Williams?
As Williams recalls, the spot had gained a reputation for illicit activity. “Sure enough, there was evidence all over the place. Condom wrappers, gel containers and, oh, did I mention the purple dress?
“Annmarie gives the impression of being quiet and reserved. On this occasion, as we approached men in the parking lot, she would ask as demurely as possible: ‘So, is this park a place to meet up for sex?’ Then she would be right in the guy’s face. ‘No, well what do you do here?’ The usual answer was, ‘We look at the deer.’
“During our whole time there she never flinched. Not once. What a great gal.”
Not buying that baloney
Chelsea Conaboy, now a writer for the Boston Globe, first encountered Timmins as a journalism instructor at UNH: “She was quiet and smart, sweet and a bit nervous, and she made me believe that I could be a journalist, too.”
Three years later, they were colleagues in Concord, and Conaboy recalls hearing a sharp, take-no-crap voice coming from Timmins’s direction. “I leaned around the side of the monitor to see if someone else was sitting there. Of course it was her, on the phone with a Catholic church official, I think, giving a stellar ‘you can’t expect me to believe that’ response to whatever baloney they were dishing.”
Ray Duckler, the paper’s longtime columnist (and no cream puff himself), says Timmins inspired him to get tough with sources now and then and to pursue stories that weren’t served to him on a silver platter.
In fact, Timmins has been at the Monitor so long that a lore has built up around her. Sarah Koenig, a reporter here in the late 1990s and now a producer for the This American Life radio program, remembers asking her for advice about covering the Lakes Region in the Monitor’s long-ago Laconia bureau.
“I remember her saying: ‘Oh, yeah, and there’s a movie theater right there. You can go there during the day and catch a movie. Sometimes I did that’,” Koenig says. “And I remember thinking: This is the greatest job in the world. Actually, what I really thought was: ‘Really? I can go see a movie in the middle of the work day? And no one will care? If Annmarie did it, and she’s so highly regarded here, then it must be sort of okay. Maybe I can try that on a slow day.”
Years later, Koenig reports, Timmins told her she’d actually never done it herself; maybe she just fantasized about it.
Hans Schulz, a longtime Monitor city editor now at the Boston Globe, describes Timmins as a towns reporter at heart, despite all the big stories she landed.
“She sometimes advocated harder for smaller stories than big ones – things that weren’t sexy but that she knew were of consequence to readers in Loudon or Franklin,” he says. “She probably covered more town meetings than anyone in the history of the Monitor, including some historic clunkers, but brought a lot of enthusiasm to the task each and every year – as she always did when she knew her stories mattered – and never shortchanged the readers.”
A new chapter
Timmins was most comfortable writing a straightforward news story – soft feature assignments gave her the heebie-jeebies. Yet she gamely covered the Hopkinton Fair when asked. She wrote a story about her own home’s weird history as a funeral parlor. She wrote about canning and making cutie-pie stuffed animals.
Perhaps most notable of all: a 2013 courageous, first-person account of her own struggles with mental illness which, as recently as last week, was still attracting grateful readers.
Timmins is leaving the Monitor – and journalism – for a new career in education, one in which she will surely excel. Yet it is nearly unfathomable to imagine the newsroom without her in it. More important than a farewell lunch over Chinese food on Fisherville Road or milkshakes at Arnie’s will be our work to uphold the high standard she set for the rest of us.
(Felice Belman can be reached at 369-3370 or email@example.com.)