“I swear, she talked to these guys like they were her first cousin,” Ignelzi recalls of his Associated Press colleague, then head of the San Diego bureau. “She just made people relax and understand what she was doing — and nobody was there to call the Border Patrol on them.”
Ignelzi, who retired last year after a 38-year AP career, was delighted to hear last week that Buzbee had been chosen to succeed Marty Baron as executive editor of The Washington Post.
“Every time I turned around, she was doing something that was more important than anything else,” he said of Buzbee’s news career. “I didn’t know where she was going to end up. Well, this is as far as you can go in the AP. But I guess I was wrong about that.”
Ignelzi, who turns 74 soon, shared memories of San Diego’s chief AP correspondent from April 1993 through February 1995. He considered her the best of the seven or eight he’s worked with.
“She’s as good a boss as you’ll ever have in your life,” he said.
He said AP stringers under Buzbee were respected as much as staff members, and “every one of them felt like they were important people.”
But Buzbee, then about 40, was no push-over.
“When I did something that she didn’t think was right, she would tell me immediately,” Ignelzi said in a phone interview from his Encinitas home. “There was no easy way to get around anything that was wrong.”
Buzbee was the kind of boss you wanted, he said, because she would tell you what wasn’t working.
“There was no make-believe,” he said. “We did whatever she asked us to do as best we could. It was always a good time.”
He recalls a visit to an Imperial County prison in 104-degree heat because it was the first in California to install electrified fences.
“She always had a [story] idea,” he said. “When you get someone like her who has good ideas, you don’t have to think too hard” as a photographer. “I’m very happy for her. She’s the type of person that you want to see in those positions — just knowing her, you know she’s going to treat everybody right.”
Not that she wouldn’t take risks.
When retired pitcher Eric Show died in 1994 at a drug rehabilitation center in Dulzura, Buzbee didn’t hesitate to have her Padres expert — Lenny Ignelzi — write the obituary.
After turning in his copy. Buzbee said OK and “started correcting the things I didn’t write properly. Before you knew it, she made it so I looked like I knew how to write,” he said.
Over the years, Ignelzi kept in touch with the Buzbees — even as she moved to assignments in Washington and the Middle East and back with her late husband, John, and two daughters.
Lenny and his wife, Bobbi, a former Union-Tribune consumer affairs reporter, had breakfast with the Buzbees on Cape Cod. He says he has photos of himself with Buzbee, “but If I found it, it would be a miracle.”
Now Buzbee, 55, is two weeks away from taking over a staff of nearly 1,000, the first woman to lead the iconic newsroom of Pentagon Papers and Woodward and Bernstein fame.
Being the first female executive editor “gives her some heavy-duty weight,” Ignelzi said. “I don’t know how much [billionaire owner Jeff Bezos] pays the executive editor, but I got a feeling she’s out of the six figures and into the seven now.”
Ignelzi said he had no question in his mind where his old boss was going to end up.
“When she became the bureau chief in D.C., I used to call her from time to time just to give her a hard time about something,” he said. “She always knew exactly what she had to do when she had to do it.”
Ignelzi says he texted her congratulations upon the WaPo news. But he intends to write Buzbee a more formal note.
“I’m not asking for my job back,” he said. “I’m well-retired.”