In his job as managing editor of the Prince George Citizen, Roy Nagel had his finger on the pulse of the city and found a way to wade through the politics of running a newspaper to present facts and opinions to the community without treading on too many toes.
He later transitioned to a leadership role with the Central Interior Logging Association, fighting for worker safety and the rights of independent contractors who previously felt powerless taking on governments, regulatory agencies and the lumber giants.
A man of few enemies who made the people around him feel important and loved, Nagel died suddenly of a medical condition on Aug. 23. He was 81.
“One of the things about him was his deep sense of fairness and his ability to compartmentalize and deal with situations one at a time and not let other things get in the way,” said his wife Donna.
“He had a mind like a steel trap. He could come back at you naming five things you had in a conversation where you might remember two. If he was negotiating in any way he had all the points he needed and he could keep bringing them up until you finally caved.”
Nagel crafted his negotiating skills as an aspiring lawyer. But after a year of studying law at the University of Saskatchewan, he decided he didn’t want to spend his life defending clients to tell only their side of the story and he made the newspaper business his career choice.
Starting out at his hometown Moose Jaw Times-Herald, where he met his photographer first wife, Marie, Nagel cut his teeth as reporter, later moving on to the Star-Phoenix in Saskatoon, where their son Jeff was born in 1967. After four years he went to the Winnipeg Tribune and worked his way up to become assistant city editor of the 375-employee broadsheet until Aug. 27, 1980, when it abruptly closed.
Within days of the shutdown, he landed a new job in Prince George with the Citizen news team. The paper created an associate editor position, grooming Nagel as the eventual replacement for editor Tony Skae, a job Nagel held until 1997 when he moved on to the Central Interior Logging Association as general manager.
“They needed a communicator and a negotiator and he was a great spear chucker for them,” said Donna. ”He knew nothing about forestry, but he got in there and knew how to negotiate and found it really interesting how many really smart and successful contractors were out there that weren’t being treated fairly and he drew them all together to think as a group, not individually, so that they had a bigger voice.
“He had lots of patience. He knew his facts and relied on his facts. He was well-researched every time he came into the room. You could bluster all you wanted but he could get you with facts. But at the same time he wouldn’t leave you empty-handed. Even if you were the enemy in the room, you always went out with a little win and something to chew on as you went out the door.”
Nagel was a big man, standing six-foot-six, and had the hands and deep baritone voice to match his stature. Outside of his work, Nagel loved the outdoors and was boy scout leader who was especially fond of fishing. After he retired from the loggers’ association for, according to Donna, "about the seventh time" in 2009, he took up golf and was part of regular foursome at Aspen Grove. He was fond of sipping good scotch or rum, and took an interest in classic cars, woodworking, gardening and antique clocks.
“He was completely inclusive, it didn’t matter who you were or what your background was or your social status, he was easy to talk to and completely genuine,” said longtime friend Taylor Sapergia. “He spoke so fondly of his days at the Citizen. It was part of what shaped him. He did not mince words when he had a cause or a concept or philosophy that was important to him that he could see was being attacked, he did not back down.”
Former Citizen reporter/assistant editor Kyle Storey remembers Nagel for his willingness to stick up for his newsroom staff and insulate them from the bullying tactics of the Conrad Black-era management team of the late-1990s, when the Citizen changed ownership from Southam to Hollinger.
“He was always kind and considerate,” said Storey. “When our industry started to become mean-spirited and money grabbing, Roy refused to go along with the trend. He never gave in to what must have been increasing pressure and tried to protect the folks who worked under him as best he could.”