Eliot F. Porter Jr. was a one-of-a kind. He was a brilliant thinker and writer. He was crusty, cantankerous, infuriating and funny. Sometimes at the same time.
I first met Porter in 1971 when writing about his work as technical secretary to Lewis Green, the head of the Missouri Air Conservation Commission. Green and Porter had forced Union Electric to begin cleaning up the air. A federal official remarked:
“I really respect Eliot Porter. If it weren’t for him and Lewis Green, Missouri wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is in controlling pollution. They were guys who did not mind riling people up if they had to get things done. It is a real art to be effective and not anger people. But I’ve always respected Eliot for not caring whether he got somebody’s goat.”
In decades that followed at the Post-Dispatch, Porter got a lot of people’s goats. He sued his bosses for sex discrimination and excoriated foolish editors. Porter left young reporters alternately amazed by his intellect and frightened they’d be revealed as stupid.
Bill McClellan, the Post-Dispatch’s veteran columnist, took a humorous look at Porter earlier this year as the “Meanest man in St. Louis leaves town”
William H. Freivogel is publisher of Gateway Journalism Review. Freivogel is a former editorial page deputy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and contributes to St. Louis Public Radio.