Nothing heavy or momentous today. It is Labor Day weekend, a good time to write about work and leisure. As it happens, my first boss in the newspaper business is retiring this weekend, and a conversation with him at the start of his last week on the job triggered some random thoughts.

Harold V. Liston started working as an office boy at the Bloomington Pantagraph in 1943. When I showed up as a novice reporter, fresh out of the Army, in 1953, he was city editor. When he retired this week, he had been editor for more than 14 years. It is the kind of career you hardly find anymore -- 39 years of work, up through the ranks, and almost all of it in one place.

In the 1960s, Liston won a Nieman Fellowship for a year's study at Harvard University. When he came back here, he was restless, so he went to work for the Associated Press in Chicago. But the life of a commuter and the impersonality of the wire service routine soon proved disagreeable, and he came back to his paper -- which was glad to have him.

It was a family kind of paper, of a sort that is hard to find in these days of mergers and chain operations. It was founded almost 150 years ago by Jesse Fell, a contemporary and friend of Abraham Lincoln. Fell, a Greek scholar, gave it its unique name. He was the grandfather of the Adlai E. Stevenson who ran for president twice and the great-grandfather of the one who is now the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois.

Until quite recently, when it was purchased by the San Francisco Chronicle people, the Pantagraph remained in the hands of the Stevensons and their cousins, the Merwins.

There was a sense of history to the place. But the family feeling went beyond that. When I was hired as a reporter, covering Woodford and Livingston counties, Charles Driver was the managing editor and his wife, Lolita, was editor of the women's pages. Liston's wife, Phyllis, worked part-time for Lolita Driver, and so did my wife, Ann, until our first son was born.

But if this sounds like a cozy, comfy place, I am giving you the wrong impression. After work, at Lucca's Grill, there were plenty of laughs, but during the day, it was a no-nonsense operation. In those days, no front-page space was "wasted" on photographs. What the readers got, every day, was telegraph editor Marshall Geiler's tightly edited summary of two dozen of the most important stories about the state, the nation and the world. Local news began on page three.

What distinguished the Pantagraph was the absolute professionalism of its journalism; it was as uncompromising in its standards as any place I have ever worked. It was no accident that the city editor of this 40,000-circulation paper was picked for a Nieman Fellowship, which is one of the most sought-after prizes in our business.

The Pantagraph's reputation was maintained by a cadre of locally bred and locally educated people like Driver, Liston, Bill Diesel, Gene Smedley, Frank Bill, "Brick" Young and Harold Adams. Basically, they spent their lives in one place and on one goal -- making the Pantagraph the best paper it could be.

Because of them, platoons of young, gypsy reporters like me could move through that newsroom, learning our beats and the skills of our craft, without the readers' suffering too much from our inexperience. It was the kind of apprenticeship that is all too rare in journalism, and other trades, these days.

When I read about the decline of workmanship and productivity in any field of American enterprise, I think that what is missing is the equivalent of one of those editors -- angrily rejecting a story with a misspelled name or demanding to know why the night's police stories were not yet on the desk for processing.

The other great and elusive lesson they taught was the character of the relationship between a newspaper and its community. Liston and the others were of the community in a way that people who have lived their lives in one place can be. They identified with it, and they wanted it to succeed. Liston's predecessor as editor, H. Clay Tate, made himself an expert on economic development strategies, and wrote a book that became a guide to survival for many of the small farm towns around Bloomington, including Eureka, Ill., where the current president of the United States went to school.

But at the same time, these editors understood--and taught us -- that journalists stand a step apart, that we are the observers, the monitors and -- if need be -- the critics of those who hold public responsibilities.

Liston did not have to strive to be critical, or even caustic. It came naturally, particularly when he was combating what he thought stupid examples of official secrecy.

As one of many who learned from him and the others more of the craft of journalism than any school could teach, I was pleased to have a chance to lift a glass with him in his retirement week. I was appalled -- but not surprised -- to learn that he is leaving behind 30 columns -- that's right, 30 -- containing what he says are his last words of advice to his readers. That promise, I will bet, he will not keep. only people who have lived their lives in one place can be. They identified with it, and they wanted it to succeed. Liston's predecessor as editor, H. Clay Tate, made himself an expert on economic development strategies, and wrote a book that became a guide to survival for many of the small farm towns around Bloomington, including Eureka, Ill., where the current president of the United States went to school.

But at the same time, these editors understood -- and taught us -- that journalists stand a step apart, that we are the observers, the monitors and -- if need be -- the critics of those who hold public responsibilities.

Liston did not have to strive to be critical, or even caustic. It came naturally, particularly when he was combating what he thought stupid examples of official secrecy.

As one of many who learned from him and the others more of the craft of journalism than any school could teach, I was pleased to have a chance to lift a glass with him in his retirement week. I was appalled -- but not surprised -- to learn that he is leaving behind 30 columns -- that's right, 30 -- containing what he says are his last words of advice to his readers. That promise, I will bet, he will not keep.