Robert Rivard boasts quite an extensive resume: vacuum seller, meat butcher, heavy equipment operator, newspaper writer and editor. The last two seem out of place compared to the rest, but Rivard has been working toward them since elementary school. Rivard visited news writing classes at West Chester University on Sept. 27 to explain how he got to the place he is today and what keeps him busy.
Rivard started off the presentation by describing where his aspirations to develop into a “news man” formed. In elementary school in Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, he along with some friends made their own newspaper about race car related topics, which they sold to neighbors for 15 cents. He realized at that young age he was, “gonna grow up and move to one of these places where news is made” to become a reporter.
As he grew up however, he abandoned the dream of becoming a reporter due to an unhealthy, hectic lifestyle. His family lived a nomadic existence, in part because of his mother’s drug addiction. As soon as he could, he left his family and never looked back, but his adult life mirrored his childhood as he traveled around the country from one job and relationship to another.
It was not until he met a woman and followed her to Texas that he realized that the hole in his life. Texas became the place where this adult, who never called anyplace home, put down roots and “reinvented himself.” While there he also, “hatched my dream of becoming a newspaper man south of the border.”
After moving to Texas his life moved in the direction of a professional newsman. He graduated from college and got his first job at the Brownsville Herald newspaper in Texas. From there he moved to Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Dallas Times Herald and Newsweek, where he opened the magazine’s bureau in South America and covered the civil wars taking place in Latin America. Rivard returned to Texas in 1990 and joined the San Antonio Light as deputy managing editor where he remains.
While working at The San Antonio Light, Rivard uncovered a major scandal involving several The New York Times writers. He blew the whistle on Jayson Blair, a writer for The Times, who plagiarized a story from one of Rivard’s writers. This incident caused a huge shake down at The Times and it all started because Rivard avidly reads The Times.
Just as Rivard reached a plateau in his life where he had a family, a good job and the stability his life lacked for many years, a wrench was thrown into the mix. Philip True, a writer for Rivard, was reported missing. True’s last known whereabouts were somewhere in the Mexican wilderness.
Rivard joined in the search and ended up helping to dig the body of his colleague out of the dirt with his bare hands. This experience, along with the desperate fight with Mexican officials to bring True’s killers to justice, prompted Rivard to write a book detailing the events of the murder.
While researching the book, Rivard discovered that no one, not even his wife, really knew the whole story of Philip True. “This sparked my journalistic side,” states Rivard. He then delved into the history of True and embarked on a journey to discover True’s life story. While researching and traveling to find out more about True, Rivard realized his findings told a completely different story than the one he intended to write. “The story in front of you isn’t as good as the story under the carpet,” he explains.
Along the way Rivard also became conscious of the many parallels between his life and True’s life. Those parallels along with the facts of how True’s body and killers were found are detailed in Rivard’s book “Trail of Feathers,” which comes out in October.
Rivard showed a group of future reporters how even when life seems stacked against them everything will turn out fine with, “determination, lots of help and a little bit of luck.