KALIOPEE ('TOPY') FISKE  page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4

Catch her if you can! With the title of L.A. Times senior editor, production and news desks, including oversight for regional art, design and photo departments and systemwide special projects, Kaliopee ('Topy') Fiske's assignments and projects take her to many parts of the U.S. at least six months in the year, visiting major newspapers wherever she goes.

Topy was born in Freeport, IL., 100 miles northwest of Chicago, and while the area where she grew up was poor and tough, the one eminently important factor was its strong Greek community. These were recent immigrants from the island of Samos, related either through family or church. "We had this wonderful circle of friends, and although all of them had entry level jobs, the striking thing about them was their work ethic. The whole idea of coming to this country was to make a better life for their children; for that you needed education and hard work. These were the ethics with which we grew up."

So out of this impoverished neighborhood, although many of her elementary schoolfriends did not graduate high school, or ended their days with police records, the children of the Greek families achieved the life their parents dreamed of. Some of her neighbors had no indoor plumbing or refrigeration and had little money for food and clothing. Families of 16 or 17 children were not so unusual, with the record being 21. "There was a lot of danger around us - shootings, prostitution, threats against my father who owned a tavern on this poor side of town. Needless to say, my mother kept us on a very tight leash."

Topy remembers a good friend of hers who at age 12 didn't turn up at school one day. She'd become pregnant and dropped out. With the prevalent racism and prejudice to contend with, it was a struggle to rise out of this environment.

What it did for Topy was to give her a sensitivity, not only
for her own family's efforts but for the other kids around her. "By the time I was seven I knew I had to apply myself at school and get out of that area. There was no doubt in my mind-- I was going to leave one way or another."

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Of course being a woman, it wasn't quite that simple; both in our society and in Greek society the role of the female was circumscribed. But her role models were the immigrant Greeks who had travelled and had strange and fascinating experiences, and she reasoned that as they had come all the way from Greece to this little town in the Midwest, then there was nothing to stop her from leaving that town and going somewhere else. Paradoxically it was the powerful family ties that gave her a real foundation for her life and enabled her to move on.

A local woman offered to sponsor her to an Ivy League university but Topy thought it would be too hard on her mother for her to be so far away, so she compromised and went to the University of Illinois on a scholarship. This turned out to be a lucky move as the university attracted all kinds of interesting people from around the world, and had a first class journalism department.

A job with the Chicago Tribune began her extraordinary career in the newspaper business. Although her deepest wish was to be a foreign correspondent, as a female she kept getting shut out. She did not get to be one, but she did get to be many other things.

At the Tribune she had the opportunity to work in every department; she was a reporter, a features writer and editor, wrote three different columns including one on music and another on celebrities, was the magazine editor responsible for food, fashion, home furnishings, edited the national, foreign, and opinion copy desks, learned layout and marketing.

"After twelve years I felt I wasn't moving along far enough and decided to go where I could create something for myself. I had a solid foundation of experience and understanding of what it takes to publish a newspaper. Put me down in any department and I can work it." She spent the next ten years improving the San Francisco Examiner, where one of her many jobs was developing new sections and special projects for various newsroom departments.

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She also gained a deep understanding of the problems people face. "I can go into a department and just observe. By the end of the day I have figured out what the problems are and how to fix them."

At times she has had to use creative solutions when faced with lack of cooperation or downright snubbing because she was a woman. On one project not a single person showed up at a meeting she was chairing. She called another meeting and no one showed up at that one either. A lesser person would have given up at this point. But Topy's solution was to become a committee of one and represent every aspect of the meeting herself. She proposed certain suggestions, she agreed, she made objections, she figured out solutions, and took the minutes. When the project was completed and she turned in her report everyone was amazed that all her new ideas were implemented. The editor asked her how on earth she had managed to get such cooperation!

In 1982 a mud slide destroyed her home in what was a life-changing experience for the family. Her two young sons were devastated and Topy faced the situation in a typical and powerful manner. "Because of the cataclysmic nature of that experience I decided to do something that would make them feel more secure. Once you have 30 tons of mud oozing through your house it doesn't make you feel great about the stability of the environment." She took her boys hiking, mountain climbing and whitewater rafting so enthusiastically that, she says, they developed an Indiana Jones complex. They both love wilderness, hiking and exploration. She also took every opportunity to send them on school trips to Europe and Asia, and both are now studying in North Africa.

The boys did have an unusual take on home life. Her older boy who had stayed with a friend came home and said "Mom, it was strange. When my friend's mother said 'Let's eat!' we got to the table and the table was set and the food was there. But when you say 'Let's eat!' it means 'Let's cook, let's set the table, let's clean up!'"

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"The absolute bottom line was complete and total love for those boys and they know that. It's given them their supreme confidence. Both have independently come to me and said 'Mom, I want to make sure whatever I'm doing I can give back to the community.'

"We were very active in our church, Resurrection, in northern California. We had a remarkable priest, who is still a friend of ours, Father Thom Aramis. He was wonderful with children and is now head of Trinity Children and Family Services (Guadalupe Homes). Again this community gave my boys another foundation to know that there were alternatives and choices in our society. They could see they didn't have to go along with the crowd. They had their own strength."

In 1990 Topy joined the Los Angeles Times as Managing Editor/Operations, Orange County Edition, and later moved to the main office, where she is involved in strategic planning and projects for the future of the paper. "I keep myself focused on the goal and try to let the other stuff go by. That's why it's important to choose something you love to do because your life will be enriched by it. I tell this to my two sons.

"I also try to follow something I read in a book called Arctic Dreams, which describes the Aleut culture in Alaska. It says the most revered person is neither the richest nor the smartest person, but the one who creates the environment for wisdom to be revealed.

"I try to stay away from anyone toxic - those who have negative thoughts, who act with less than honor, who are racist, or who lose curiosity about life. How much better it is to be around people who are balanced, curious, all-inclusive, who pursue their goals and truths of the planet and try to make a contribution and set something up for the next generation!"