“When parents come for graduation, students want to introduce them to all the influential, great Harvard minds,” Amy B. McIntosh ’80 said. “The only person I wanted my parents to meet was Pat Sorrento.”
Patrick R. Sorrento, production supervisor at The Harvard Crimson for 31 years and dedicated mentor to generations of Crimson editors, died peacefully after a brief illness Wednesday. He was 80 years old.
Sorrento, a rambunctious yet fatherly individual, was a mainstay at The Crimson until 1998 and is the namesake of “Sorrento Square,”the intersection of Bow and Plympton streets near where The Crimson is located. For many Crimson editors, Sorrento’s time at the newspaper is married intimately with its history and legacy.
“The Crimson had many student editors, but it had one mayor, and that was Pat,” Jeffrey R. Toobin ’82, a former Crimson sports and editorial editor and writer at the New Yorker, said. “Pat was the institutional DNA that connected the paper and the students to our predecessors and successors.”
Though the paper—staffed almost entirely by a team of student journalists—employs some additional employees to help with production, none have occupied the same position as Sorrento during his time at 14 Plympton Street, the newspaper’s Cambridge headquarters.
As production supervisor, Sorrento was chiefly responsible for overseeing the daily creation of the paper. According to Sarah E. Scrogin ’96, a former managing editor, Sorrento would arrive at 14 Plympton St. around 8 p.m. each night and begin setting the templates for each page and helping editors flow stories into the paper. Tasked with a largely technical job, Sorrento still helped editors polish stories, offering alternatives for overused words and making convoluted sentences more precise.
Often berating Crimson editors for lagging behind during the production schedule, Sorrento would employ any number of expletives to light a fire under the editors’ feet.
“He would say that it was time to get things ‘effing done,’ and that we were ridiculous slowpokes who couldn’t get anything done,” Scrogin said.
Yet this barbed and “very colorful” language made him more endearing in the eyes of the Crimson editors whom he mentored, John C. Mitchell ’96, a former photo editor, remembered.
“He would always lovingly call us a bunch of dingalings and nitwits and so on,” Mitchell said.
Joseph Garcia ’84 a former Crimson executive, added that “As with most, my first reaction to him was abject fear every time I entered his realm in the basement paste-up shop at 14 Plympton. But over time, I came to have abiding admiration for this rock amid the self-important seas of Harvard.”
“It’ll be hard to have any recollections of the past that don’t involve uses of the work 'fuck,'” Toobin said. “He treated us as something between peers and peons, which in the rarefied atmosphere of Harvard was totally refreshing and fun.”
Producing the paper—an already protracted process made longer by the technology editors worked with during Sorrento’s days—often extended into the early hours of the morning. In rare occasions, production would not end until 6 a.m. the day after it began, and then, Sorrento would oversee the distribution of the papers to houses and offices around campus.
“He was as much a journalist as he was a technician, as much as an editor at the New York Times is a journalist,” said Daniel Altman ’96, a former Crimson editorial chair who later worked for the Economist and the New York Times. “He was absolutely integral to the production process.”
His entrance to the newsroom would always be prefaced by the distinct smell of “vile cigar smoke” wafting through the building, Matthew M. Hoffman ’91, a former news editor, wrote in a Facebook post remembering Sorrento. Sorrento was known for his love of cigars and poker, as well as french fries and coffee, Scrogin said. Assistant night editors and compers hoping to join The Crimson were tasked with making sure that Sorrento’s order of fries and coffee was fulfilled nightly from a local pizza place.
Indeed, the breadth of his tenure at the paper placed him in direct contact with successive generations of Crimson editors, many of whom now work at top newspapers across the world. He often consoled the undergraduates when they encountered difficulties at home.
For Scrogin and many others, Sorrento was a “father figure”—one of the few adults with whom Crimson editors interacted daily during their time at the newspaper. Scrogin said she remembers Sorrento helping her during her time as Managing Editor when her father passed away.
“He cared about our personal lives,” Scrogin said. “Pat was always so caring and inspirational.”
Many echoed that sentiment.
Andrew L. Wright ’96, former Crimson president, said he remembers Sorrento going out of his way to make sure that Crimson editors returned to their dormitories safely after daily production was complete. Wright, who attended Harvard when the freshman Yard dorms were being renovated, was housed at 29 Garden Street, a building closer to the Radcliffe Quad than Harvard Square.
“What he did was a labor of love,” Wright said, adding that he appreciated Sorrento even more for that extra trip given how late into the night production could run. “I imagine he wanted to get back to his family.”
For a brief period in the early ’80s, the Crimson was without a press operator because the previous one retired. In the interim, Sorrento trained a slew of potential employees on how to use the machines.
“One of Pat’s wonderful legacies was finding Brian [Byrne, the current press operator], and I know how much affection and respect he had for Brian,” Larry S. Grafstein ’82 said. “He did that after several months of seeking several unsuccessful candidates, and unfortunately having to ensure—heroically—that the paper came out himself.”
The year of his retirement in 1998, then-mayor of the City of Cambridge Francis H. Duehay ’55 designated the intersection of Bow and Plympton street as the Patrick R. Sorrento square in honor of Sorrento’s long term involvement in the paper.
Sorrento was the only staff member to oversee both the hot and cold production of the newspaper as technology evolved during his tenure. Crimson editors remember him for his ability to adapt to the new tools journalists used to produce papers and quickly teach each new class the technical aspects of putting a paper out every morning.
“He never forgot that he was educating us, edition by edition,” SoRelle B. Brown ’96, now an attorney, wrote in an email of Sorrento.
Sorrento is survived by his wife, Patricia and three daughters, Laureen Sorrento, Leanne Tierney, and Carolyn Sorrento.
A wake will be held for Sorrento on Sunday June 12 at Rocco’s Funeral Home in Everett, Mass. from 2-5 p.m. Funeral services for Sorrento will occur at 38 Oakes St., Everett Mass. 02149 on Monday June 13 at 10 a.m.—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
Crime WaveReturning Crimson editors are invited back to 14 Plympton St. each and every afternoon this week. Drop by, say hello
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