Al Reiss, a writer and drama critic for the Mail Tribune for nearly 30 years, died Sunday in Battleground, Wash. He was 80.
Reiss, who won awards for his reporting as well as his poetry and plays, was named the Arts Council of Southern Oregon's Individual of the Year in 1998. Six of his plays were produced in regional theaters.
A longtime member of the American Theater Critics Association, he counted among his friends Hollywood legends Jack Elam and Ginger Rogers, both of whom had ties to the Rogue Valley.
"He was a man of quality in every way," said longtime friend Dean Ing, 81, of Ashland, a retired novelist.
"I always told Al that he was better with words than I ever was," he added. "Al didn't get paid like I did, but he should have been."
Ing credited Reiss with bringing national attention to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which received a Tony Award in 1983.
In addition to his accomplishments, Reiss was an excellent coworker, observed Cleve Twitchell, former Tempo editor at the Mail Tribune who retired in 2002.
"Al was a very nice person to be around, always very pleasant," Twitchell said, noting his friend was a founder of Tempo in 1969.
Reiss wrote a column for Tempo that ran nearly a quarter of a century.
Another longtime friend, Carol Knapp of Jacksonville, said Reiss' poetry spoke volumes.
"He had such a vast store of knowledge from all the things he did, particularly in the entertainment world," she said. "He had an amazing memory.
"I remember going to the movies with Al one time and they had some old-time cartoons," she added. "The cartoon had a character holding a box. Al said, 'A frog is going to jump out of that box.' It did. He said he saw it when he was a little kid and remembered it."
After his retirement, Reiss wrote freelance for the Mail Tribune and other publications, including the Back Stage magazine based in the Big Apple.
In his final column for the MT in the fall of 1997, Reiss expressed his thoughts on his profession.
"Over the years the people in the newsroom have become a surrogate family, and not always surrogate," he wrote. "While working the daily miracle, we also work through our lives. We have our marriages, divorces, children — born to us or adopted out of love for them — deaths of loved ones and friends; pleasures and pain. We try not to let them show as we write about the world of our readers."
Born in Lawton, Okla., on Oct. 31, 1932, Reiss died in hospice care of complications associated with Parkinson's disease. Survivors include daughters Karen Williams of Brush Prairie, Wash., and Belinda Bates of Iowa City, Iowa, and two grandchildren.
The family plans to hold a memorial service for him in the Rogue Valley this coming summer.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.