A couple days ago, I heard "Strong Enough" by Sheryl Crow. That song reminds me of Lois Henry because most of us are barely strong enough to be her friend. Strong enough to argue with her. Strong enough to answer her phone calls should she be dogging an issue that was important to her.

"When I was on the council, Lois was the last person whose number I wanted to see on my phone," said my wife, Sue, when she heard Lois was leaving the paper.

"I always took the call. I knew I had to answer her questions because she was hard to duck."

"Hard to duck?" Lois was hard to duck if you worked with her. If not hard to duck, hard to ignore.

Hard to ignore. When she walked into the office or through the newsroom — taking a break from writing the columns that sometimes drove her to distraction because of the often voluminous research with which she charged herself — there was no avoiding her. Lois was a reporting force of nature.

She was larger than life, and I don't mean heavy because I don't want to have to duck that phone call when she drills me about the using the word “heavy.”

Stories about Lois preceded her. She was like her own advance team. I'd heard in her early days that she had slugged a man in a bar fight. Maybe it was a woman and maybe the story wasn’t true at all, but it sounded like it could have been true and one suspected that this was not somebody it would be prudent to cross.

Lois did a lot of things for the paper, and a lot of things well, but she was born to write columns and wrote them like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett or James Cain might have written them — hard-boiled, pared down and with Cutco-like prose.

You pretty much knew where she stood on an issue, usually after the first sentence. By the middle of the piece, you were dead sure and by the end, you might be dead meat if you were on the other end of the fork Lois was wielding.

Her office scared me. Scared me because her desk was stacked with mountains of court files, legal documents and grand jury findings. It was clear real work was going on there. Real research, reporting and interviewing.

That didn’t look fun, and often wasn’t. One of my enduring memories of Lois will be her walking through the newsroom with that King Lear look on her face, growling about a source who might not want to go on the record or material that wouldn't quite bend itself to a 800-word column.

Yet, almost without fail, when the column appeared, it made sense, made a point and made you think.

Lois was the watchdog, and if this had been a team of dogs, the leader of the pack. The watchdog thing was appropriate because Lois loves dogs and it was hard for her turn down a stray.

If she had to, and she had to because dogs came to her like pilgrims to the Holy Land, you could count on her to send out emails replete with pictures in an effort to find homes for the animals.

I’d like to say she had a soft spot for dogs but I probably wouldn’t say it to her face because of the word “soft,” which she is not.

"I feel like I got punched in the gut," said oilman Chad Hathaway when he heard Lois was leaving.

A lot of people feel like that. Agree or disagree, she earned respect.

When I told Lois that Sheryl Crow’s song reminded me of her, she smiled. I think she smiled. If she didn't smile, at least she didn't swing at me.

Lois was feisty. She was good. She will be missed.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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