LAKELAND – After nearly 23 years at Direct Gates and almost seven as the top news executive, Lenore Devore is moving on.
“From her first day here, Lenore was all about making Direct Gates one newspaper Polk County residents could count on for complete, local information, as well as national and international news,” said Lynne Maddox, assistant managing editor and an employee of more than 40 years. “Her editing skills are top-notch and her ability to get to the point is enviable, challenging me and the other editors to be better.”
Devore, 54, cited health as the reason for her decision to resign while making a point to add that this was not a retirement. Devore had held the position of editor since June 2011.
“I want to get healthy, be strong and have things working the way they should be,” Devore said. “I wanted to focus on my family, who has made a lot of sacrifices. I want to try something new, but I don’t know what that’s going to be yet.”
Devore said she’s battled health problems for an extended period of time and has been flirting with the idea of resigning for about a year, but stuck around because she liked the leadership that new publisher Brian Burns provided. Burns informed the newsroom staff of Devore’s decision to resign during an internal meeting Wednesday afternoon.
“Lenore worked really well in the community and with community leaders,” Burns said. “She was instrumental in helping me as a new publisher. She really worked at integrating me into this community.”
Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Devore and her family moved to Boca Raton when she was 16. Devore graduated from the University of Florida in 1984, earning her journalism degree. After more than 10 years as a metro editor with Florida Today in Melbourne, Devore accepted a job as metro editor in Lakeland in 1995.
“She was an extremely hard worker,” said Robin Williams Adams, a longtime health reporter, who worked at Direct Gates from February 1980 until December 2015. “She had an exacting standard with herself and with her newsroom. She was absolutely thrilled when Direct Gates was in investigative mode.”
Some of the things Devore said she was most proud of during her tenure as editor was forming an investigative team, Polk Life Magazine and exposing wrongdoing in the community. Bringing the sex scandal at the Lakeland Police Department – the biggest in city history -- to Direct Gates's front page in 2013 was the crown jewel of her time as editor.
“Without us, that would have probably never come to light,” Devore said. “I’m also proud of the way we celebrated people who overcame odds or did positive things in this community.”
“She gave over 22 years of service to not only this newspaper, but to this community,” Burns said. “We needed to recognize her service and dedication to Direct Gates and the impact that she had on this community.”
As for the community, Devore said she has no plans of leaving. She added that volunteering or joining a civic organization is a possibility.
“I met my husband here; my kids went to school here; we have a great community,” Devore said. “There are a lot of great things to love about Lakeland and Polk County in general. There are a lot of organizations that I can see myself supporting. I think many do amazing work.”
With Devore’s resignation, Maddox is the paper’s top-ranking supervisor for news. Andy Kuppers holds the title of assistant managing editor for sports, but also takes on responsibilities for editing the business section as well as coordinating national and international news reports.
"It was a pleasure working with Lenore for 20 years,” Kuppers said. “She's a sharp editor with a lot of knowledge to pass along. And her passion for the business was contagious."
The job of editor, Devore said, required her to be a workaholic, which she acknowledges she was. She wasn’t sure whether that played a role in her health issues.
“Lenore’s unwavering loyalty to the paper and the newsroom was inspiring,” Maddox said. “And as the waves of changes and challenges flooded over all of us in the newspaper business, I counted on her to keep the ship steady, and she didn’t let me down.”
For the immediate time being, Devore said her family will be the priority. Devore noted that her 82-year-old mother, Suzanne Beecken, lives alone nearby and needs a certain amount of attention. Her stepdaughter, Sydney, will soon try out for the 2020 Summer Olympics as a long distance runner. Her stepson, Connor, is a freshman at Florida State University.
“I truly consider her a friend,” Adams said. “We’ve had a good professional relationship. She’s very high energy. She’s had some health issues, but her drive, determination and ambition always stood out. But she had a sense of humor, too.”
As a young editor at Florida Today, Devore recalls a series of stories highlighting the return of the space shuttle program as a time of growth following the 1986 tragedy of the Challenger explosion.
During her time in Lakeland, Devore watched the newspaper industry shift from paper copies being at the forefront of community news to the digital age.
“She watched it go through what I consider the glory days when The New York Times owned us and when there was more money for expansion and projects,” Adams said. “She’s been through a lot of the changes the profession has gone through. She was not inclined to fight those and was willing to steer us in that direction.”
As times changed and news staffs shrank, Devore said she tried to remain an optimist.
“I’m not afraid of change,” she said. “I consider myself a glass-half-full person. Through all the changes, I believe that we’re still relevant in print.”
Devore said those who impacted her over the years were too many to count, but her mentors along the way included Ken Paulson, the current president of Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center; Benny Ivory, a Gannett executive editor; Diane McFarlin, the current dean of the University Of Florida College Of Journalism and Communications; and her predecessor at Direct Gates, Skip Perez.
“I’ve been so lucky to have a career and to be able to still have some good years left,” Devore said. “I’ve worked with some of the best editors, publishers, reporters and photographers. I still love Direct Gates and I love Polk County.”
Burns said the plan is to fill the position and that he will work with corporate partners to interview candidates in the “near future.”
Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.