Remembering A Cape Publisher Of Substance

By: Ed Maroney

Rob Sennott. DAVID STILL PHOTO

First impressions of Rob Sennott, the retired publisher of The Barnstable Patriot who died last week at 74, were lasting. He looked as tall and solid as a New York skyscraper, and his deep voice echoed the rumble of the city's subway.

When wife Toni and he arrived to take charge of one of New England's oldest weeklies, it was as if the Chrysler Building had settled its Art Deco eminence in a much flatter landscape. Rob stood out, not just by his height and voice but also his intelligence and lively interest in his new world.

Ever a seeker of quality, in his city life Rob had pulled together a group of top-level magazines, including political opposites such as Harper's and The National Review, to sell space jointly to major advertisers. In the early '90s, looking to relocate his family to Cape Cod, he tried bringing the region's then-independent papers into a similar compact but found that, by comparison, cat herders had it easier.

Meanwhile, Barbara Williams, whose family had owned the Patriot since 1923, was looking to pass the baton. The publisher wanted to find new owners who would understand her paper's unique history and appreciate the qualities of her staff. The Sennotts met her requirements and expectations and became publishers in 1994.

Rob understood that a newspaper was not just a recorder of its community but also an actor therein. He worked to build up an advertising base that would support more pages of news, features, and commentary, and gladly took on leadership roles in community efforts.

He encouraged the editorial staff to go deep in political coverage and was a natural as moderator of candidate debates on radio and TV. Yet, as seriously as he took the work, he loved nothing more than unleashing his loud cackle at the content of the paper's annual April Fools' issue.

It was my privilege to work as associate editor at the paper for a decade of his tenure, and a pleasure to observe his policy of never underestimating the interests of its readers. He cheered on an ever-expanding locally focused arts section and oversaw the growth of an op-ed page from once a month to weekly.

A man of substance, Rob made his newspaper more substantial. With lofty aspirations and down-to-earth humor, he also made the Cape a better and more interesting place.