At the Sentinel, we called him, “Ballgame.”
I think because Len La Barth was a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies’ fan — and reminded us in his take-no-prisoners style of newspapering and competing of Lenny Dykstra, a hard charging Phillies outfielder who would eventually fall from grace, in baseball and in life.
Len La Barth, whom I hired as a Sentinel editor back in 1999, was declared legally dead this week.
He disappeared March 5; his truck was found March 14 near the Golden Gate Bridge and inside were two notes that law enforcement authorities said indicated he had taken his life.
From what I’ve heard, sadly, Len was on a spiral downward for a while, after losing his job in May of 2012 as editor in chief of the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville, a job he’d taken in 2006 after his years at the Sentinel.
His wife, Sukhjit Purewal, also a journalist, filed a petition with the Sutter County court for the declaration, which was necessary, she said, to settle financial affairs and help her to move on in raising their daughter.
His wife, and friends, said he had expressed suicidal thoughts in the past. And Len was known to hit the bottle when he was down –a frightful combination to be sure.
But some of this is I’ve only heard from his friends. Who but God can truly know the thoughts of a man?
We really didn’t stay in touch that much after he left the Sentinel. I last saw Len three years ago at a newspaper event in Los Angeles, where we had fun playing off the awards our papers won for news coverage. I still have the photo on my phone of Len and I holding the plaques. He’s smiling in the photograph.
Len was a Philly guy visiting the West Coast when he happened to respond to a Sentinel ad in the newspaper trades looking for a news editor. He was working as a local news editor for a suburban Philly paper at the time. We hired him based on phone interviews. I still remember when he showed up in January of 1999 to start at the Sentinel. Dressed in a suit, he had an East Coast edginess that many in our newsroom found, um, amusing at the time.
Len did well at the Sentinel — he became our features editor for a while, and served a solid stint as city editor. He played softball, aggressively, on the Sentinel team for years. Loved to go out to sing karaoke. Lived in Seacliff by the beach. Loved music and movies and baseball — and most of all, journalism and newspapering.
He joined me at church a couple of times as well.
He embraced the digital age, even serving as the first online news editor for the Sentinel, and was a frequent blogger and social media poster.
When Len lost his job as editor at the Appeal-Democrat, he emailed me to put in a good word for him on a job reference.
It was the last time I heard from him. In an unforgiving market for newspaper guys, he hadn’t found anything.
I can’t even imagine what he felt he had lost.
He was 50 years old when he disappeared.
See you someday.