During his more than 60 years in the news business, Timonium resident Lou Panos crossed paths with people from legendary Baltimore scribeH.L. Mencken to the Kennedy brothers — as in RFK and JFK.
Along the way, Panos, 86, who was inducted last week into the Maryland/Delaware/DC Press Association's Hall of Fame, cranked out articles, editorials and columns for the Associated Press for 20 years and later for the Baltimore Sun and the Patuxent Publishing Company newspapers, including the Towson Times.
In the course of covering the rough and tumble of state politics with all its heroes, villains and occasional felons, he maintained a record of integrity and fairness, tempered with a robust sense of humor and a surprising lack of cynicism.
"I told people that when I was a reporter I couldn't understand why those sleazy politicians tried to hide so much from us," said Panos, who also did a six-year stint as press secretary to former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes from 1981 to 1987.
"Then when I became a press secretary," he added, "I couldn't understand why those muckrakers in the press wouldn't let us do the public's job."
Len Lazarick, a former managing editor of Patuxent newspapers, considers Panos a mentor and a role model. In a letter endorsing Panos' induction into the MDDC Hall of Fame, he highlighted Panos' analysis and style.
"Not only did he have an insider's grasp of what was going on, but he relayed his analysis in a style that was smooth, deft and easy to understand," Lazarick wrote. "These were traits he maintained in his writing throughout his career."
Former Maryland Sen. Julian L. Lapides was also among the notables who seconded Panos' Hall of Fame nomination.
"(Panos) was an outstanding reporter, a brilliant writer and a model, ethical journalist," Lapides wrote in his letter to the MDDC. "As a journalist, he had great integrity — always reporting fairly and honestly."
Panos is grateful for such accolades, but his own assessment is, typically, a bit more self-effacing.
"I was just a work-a-day, slug-a-day newspaperman, that's all," he said.
Panos traces the inspiration for his career as a scribe, columnist and editor all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe Junior High School No. 1, at Fayette and Green streets. The school was, appropriately, just across from Poe's tomb and only a block from Baltimore's Lexington Market, where Panos' father, George E. Panos, owned and operated a restaurant stall from 1932 to 1965 and where Lou washed dishes as a boy.
"In junior high school one of my teachers, Ida Levin, read an essay I'd written as an assignment and suggested that I go to work for the school paper," he said.
A couple of years later, Panos became editor of The Collegian, the student newspaper at Baltimore City College, now Baltimore City College High School.
"When I was there, H.L. Mencken came up and spoke to what was called The Bancroft Literary Society, and Mencken was asked a question by one of the members, 'Why do you say war is a good thing?'" Panos recalled.
"Mencken's reply was, 'For the same reason I have written before: War gets rid of a lot of unnecessary people and it gives many young people a chance to experience things that they never would otherwise.' "
"Well," Panos added, , "one of the staff members on the school newspaper wrote an editorial blasting Mencken and, as editor, I was the one who had to defend the writer to the newspaper's faculty advisor and the school principal."
Panos remembers seeing Mencken around the old Baltimore Sun building, then at Charles and Baltimore streets. That was when Panos, while still in high school, made his entry into his chosen profession — as a part-time copy boy for the Associated Press.
"There was a very well-known cartoonist at the Sun at that time named 'Moko' Yardley," Panos said. "One day during the Christmas season Mencken stuck his head in the AP office, which at the time was in the Sunpapers building, and said 'Bah Humbug!' and Yardley replied, '##&&@@ you, Scrooge!'"