Tony Metcalf, editor-in-chief of Metro US, passed away Sunday at age 50 after a brief but heroic battle with colon cancer.
Metcalf was born in 1963 in Newton Aycliffe, Northern England, and spent his formative years in Cramlington. He was the Head of Journalism at Darlington Technical College where he had initially qualified as a journalist many years previously. Metcalf’s journalism career started in earnest as assistant editor at the Northern Echo, a daily regional morning newspaper serving the northeast of England. In 2000, he made the leap to editor-in-chief for Metro International, a position which saw Metcalf traveling the world, launching new Metro newspapers in more than 20 cities.
In 2003, he left Metro to launch 7Days, a free daily tabloid published in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where he worked for three years before selling the paper to the Associated Newspapers of the U.K. He returned to Metro, this time to its U.S. division, in 2008 to oversee publications in New York, Philadelphia and Boston as well as the paper’s fledgling online department.
Metcalf was a lifelong Newcastle United fan, a proud British citizen and a devoted family man to his wife, Lesley, and their two beloved children, Alex, 18, and Freya, 10.
Donations can be made to Saint Theresa’s Hospice in Darlington where he spent his final days.
A note from our CEO
This Sunday we lost our best friend and editor-in-chief, Tony Metcalf.
For the last four years, we have not only built a very strong newspaper but also a special friendship. Our friendship grew stronger and stronger from the first day we met.
Tony always said that people didn’t get me — but he did. And through our many hours together we learned a lot about each other. His interest in other people was amazing, something that will remain with me forever. He cared as deeply about me and my family as I did about his.
When you said ‘let’s do it’ I always knew it was not a tag-line, but it meant that your full intellect and power were behind the latest project in the wonderful world of Metro.
You will always be in my heart.
Yggers Mortensen, CEO of Metro US
Tony Metcalf remembered
By Ron Varrial
I often teased Tony Metcalf, by far the longest-serving editor-in-chief in Metro US’s nearly 15-year history, that I’d been cast in an episode of “Newspaper Nightmares.” He had the Gordon Ramsay act down pat. In that thick British accent, he was never afraid to tell you that you stink, sometimes before bothering to learn your name, often using insults you’d never heard before.
Tony arrived in 2008 on a mission from Metro headquarters to get us in shape. He wasn’t here to make friends. In fact, he seemed to go out of his way not to make friends. Tony was all business, with a newspaperman’s serious sense about the news. And without Tony’s ability to negotiate a contract or trim a budget, my gut tells me it’s unlikely you would be holding today’s edition.
But while Tony wanted you to think he was the gruff, stoic Brit, that’s the one spot where he eventually failed. Tony turned a three-month assignment (which he must have mentioned a hundred times through the years) into a six-year stint as editor-in-chief and quickly became a beloved figure in the Metro universe. Tony built friendships you’d think spanned the decades.
The amazing thing about Tony was that whatever started as a conversation about work would wind its way into a discussion of life. No one offered as much wisdom as he did when I got married, as my son was about to be born, and especially when I lost three close family members in a very short stretch. Tony just always knew what to say. His door was always open, but once it closed, it was like we were in our own universe. And he also had a knack of knowing just when to reach into the drawer for two glasses and a bottle.
The weekends were painfully lonely for Tony. He loved living in New York, and could never get his fill of baseball (he said it was a civilized sport.) But having his family in the U.K. was tough. He always had a special look in his eye when talking about them and looked forward to the day they would join him here.
We spent years together, and I only wish we’d had decades more. When Tony fell ill, my first response was that when I needed to “have his back” the most, I had just left Metro. He put me at ease, like he always did, reminding me that he’d been the one who pushed me to take the new job, to do what was best for my family. As I told him in one of our last conversations, “Tony, you probably can’t grasp it, but when we worked together you were part father figure, part boss and all friend. I’m not saying any sort of sad goodbye, I just want to make sure you know how much I’ve valued being by your side.”
Reading the outpouring of condolences, I can tell I’m just one of many who felt that way. It’s a great credit to the man, Tony Metcalf — rest in peace, my friend.
Ron Varrial spent eight years at Metro, leaving as managing editor in September.
By Pat Healy
Tony Metcalf was a journalist in the truest sense. He always reported the story and kept his opinion out of it, which couldn’t have been an easy thing to do given his strong personality. He spoke with a thick Northern accent that took time to adjust to, and his staff emails were filled with Britishisms that we would all take great delight in. But he also had the common sense to never let any of this language leak into his writing, reporting or editing.
Here are a few of our favorite Tony Metcalf expressions:
When discussing party plans he would write, “We’ll be arranging a bit of a knees-up.”
When he was happy with how something looked in the paper, he might call it “a belter” or “a bobby dazzler.”
When he was surprised by the details of a story, he might exclaim, “Christ on a motorcycle!”
And at the end of an encouraging email, which didn’t always come easily, he’d urge everybody to “crack on.”
“When Tony became aware that his illness was terminal, he connected with all of us and told us about his condition. Objectively and with sadness, of course, but never with pathos or making himself a victim. I think all of his thoughts were with his family and then with dear friends and colleagues. It is only a little more than one month ago that Tony and I exchanged some emails. I told him about how incredibly important he had been to me back in 2001 when Tony — then in the capacity of global editor-in-chief — was traveling the world launching new Metro newspapers. He was my editorial boss as we were launching Metro in Denmark. I remember him for his incredible dedication to the Metro project, and not least for his personal passion for the people he worked with. He showed me everything he knew (which was a lot) and we got on extremely well, personally and professionally. Tony’s editorial standards were very high, and his wealth of knowledge was enormous.
I have seldom met a ‘can-do’ man like Tony. During a start-up you often run into massive challenges. Tony was fantastic in always saying, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ Printing houses could burn down, drivers go on strike, computers crash, but Tony’s reply would always be: ‘OK, what are our options?’ We were working the better of 16-20 hours per day during those launch months. That also allowed me plenty of late evenings with Tony, when we would share meals after work. I remember how his voice changed when he lovingly talked about his family back in Newcastle, showed me photos and talked about how proud he was of his wife and children. Tony left Metro to set up a — surprise! — free newspaper in the Middle East, but he never left our friendship. He stayed in contact and we met whenever possible to catch up on publishing and family. Tony, thank you for being such a great friend and a fantastic mentor for me. I wish you could have stayed much longer.”
-Per Mikael Jensen, CEO, Metro International
“In 1999, almost 15 years ago Metro International started a newspaper in Newcastle upon Tyne. Unfortunately, to launch a paper in Newcastle proved to be a really bad idea and the publication had to close down not long after the launch with big financial losses. This catastrophic venture had only one positive result: the newspaper’s editor-in-chief; a tall, handsome, superman look-a-like, hardworking and tough guy that we recruited to London to become Metro International’s first global editor-in-chief. His name was Tony Metcalf.
Fifteen years later, Tony held a world record, deserving a place in the Guinness Book of Records being the person to start more newspapers around the world than any other living person. To work with Tony, revolutionizing the Gutenberg industry, has forever changed my view on what is possible and not. He was setting a completely new standard on what to expect from a newspaper professional in terms of work ethics, taste, good attitude and friendliness, and for this experience will I always be grateful. Tony, I will miss you dearly.”
-Pelle Tornberg, Chairman, Metro US
“Tony was a friend and role model, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented editor. Tony approached every day with openness, honesty (sometimes brutal), creativity and humor, inspiring all of us to not only be more collaborative but to push boundaries and persevere. When I told Tony that I was moving to London, he was thrilled that he had already taught me the true meaning of British sarcasm and the importance of a British hamper (priceless advice!) Tony will be deeply missed.”
-Lauren Berkemeyer, U.S. marketing director, Metro US, 2006 – 2010
“Tony was probably the most creative, most passionate swearer I’ve ever met. Whether it was a spilled Diet Coke or a shocking breaking story, he could string together an international symphony of curses on the spot. It was music to the ears of a girl from Northeast Philly. I’m proud to say that I can drop a pretty smooth ‘bloody’ at this point. But I’m prouder of the other things I learned – and am still trying to learn — from Tony: to get excited about great ideas, to get excited about questionable ideas that would lead to fun, to say thank you to people you don’t have to say thank you to, and to have a whiskey with your friends when it’s all over.”
-Monica Weymouth, Philadelphia entertainment editor, Metro, 2008 – 2013
“All signs pointed in the same direction: It was going to be a horrible flight. Four Metro editors crammed into coach for a seven-hour journey from Europe to the U.S. To make matters worse, British Airways had – for some truly odd reason – employed a bearded, uniformed man solely for the purpose of blowing balloon animals for all the children on-board. The racket was intolerable. Tony Metcalf took the lead, ordering drinks for us all. After an hour of drinking and muttering, he had suddenly had enough. His solution? Tony stole a balloon sword from a girl of 7 or 8. He looked at the shocked girl’s face – and hit her over the head with it. For what seemed like an eternity we all waited for her reaction, perplexed and scared of the consequences. But Tony had chosen well. The little girl took the sword back from the odd man, and then attacked. A balloon war broke out over the Atlantic ocean – it was Metro editors against the rest. The bearded British Airways employee was suddenly forgotten, and Tony was the new king of the airplane. It was the best flight of my life – all thanks to a man unlike any other I’ve known.”
-Eric Ljunggren, international editorial coordinator, Metro International, 1999 – 2005
“As a past Metro staff member, it is heartbreaking to learn of Tony’s passing. My most fond memory of Tony was his hearty laughter and dry British humor. He was a fine editor-in-chief who always treated me fairly, and always left his office door open.”
-Robert Claibourn Hamilton, graphic designer, Metro US, 2009 – 2011
“Tony once told me that he ‘didn’t have time to care’ about his employees’ personal lives. But that wasn’t really true. At every opportunity, he would ask about my wife and son and life in general. He may have had a brusque exterior, but at his root everything he did, every time he pushed us harder and harder, was to make Metro better. It was to make us better. He succeeded on both accounts.”
-Josh Cornfield, national news editor, Metro US, 2007 – 2010
“Tony decided to shut the office down early and have us watch the London Olympics opening ceremony together. Our IT guys Kento and Wes provided a huge projector in the conference room with the ceremony turned on. We all sat and drank Macallan 12, a celebration in true Tony-style bringing people together in that way he had about himself, with such poise. I remember during some of the more moving parts of the ceremony, he would shush everybody as he sat in his stoic proud English manner. We debated why he thought the British culture brought more to the world than any other and I, of course, felt the same way about America. This would go on for hours and his knowledge and understanding of so many things was so impressive. There are so many more memories of what I learned from Tony about life and running a newspaper, which will never be taken from me. R.I.P. Tony Metcalf.”
-Thomas Franke, account executive, Metro US
“About a year into working at Metro, I got on the wrong side of some local protest groups and started getting hate mail. A lot of hate mail. People were starting blogs about me, posting complaints on our website and emailing Tony daily urging him to fire me. I counted each message as a strike against me and thought it was only a matter of time before I’d be let go. One day, it got so bad that I called Tony in an attempt to tell him my side of the story. Before I could get more than a few words out, he cut me off. ‘The more hate mail I get about you,’ he said, ‘The better I know you’re doing your job.’
Tony placed deep trust in his reporters and was a fearless advocate for their work. He never shied away from controversy, and encouraged us to always go for the jugular, no matter what the consequences. He would always, at the end of the day, have our backs. We just had to worry about writing – he handled the hard stuff. I can only aspire to be as fearless as Tony, both professionally and personally, and to approach every challenge with the same passion and vigor with which he greeted every day.”
-Alexandra Wigglesworth, reporter, Metro Philadelphia
“It was a pleasure working with the legend, a man who made news interesting and swearing across the newsroom a pleasurable pastime.”
-Sean McEwan, photographer, 7Days, 2006 – 2008
“Tony Metcalf approached the world with the keen curiosity of a born journalist. A brief visit to his office to discuss work-related issues could blossom into a full-blown 45-minute tutorial on anything from the vagaries of this year’s England Domestic cricket season to the politics of the Middle East. Endowed with a nimble mind, a quick wit and an easy charm, he was a true pleasure to work with. Tony never allowed the day-to-day infighting between the editorial and advertising departments undermine his belief in Metro and the notion that we are all on the same team working toward the same end. He was a doting father, a loving husband and a good friend; he will be sorely missed.”
-Bob Edmunds, director of digital and national accounts, Metro US
“The world lost a beacon of light, the news world lost a great journalist, a family lost a loving father and husband, and I lost a wonderful friend.”
-Clark Weaver, Metro US
“Tony was a mentor and friend to myself and so many others at Metro. He encouraged, taught, and was always there to listen. Even when I left Metro I could always rely on his witty updates on Facebook if I wanted an interesting take on a story. I’ll remember him for his support, dedication to his craft and team, and friendship.”
-Carolyn Wagner, sales executive, Metro US, 2007 – 2011
“On Fridays, when there were just a few of us in the office, I’d sometimes receive the coveted invitation to join Tony for an afternoon glass of whiskey. The group of us would talk and laugh till the end of the work day, sitting around discussing politics and current events. At times, he’d go around the circle asking each of us personal questions about our families and lives. It was in those times that Tony demonstrated not just his ability to be a great leader, but his talent for connecting with people and really learning who they are. I’ll never forget those Friday afternoons.”
-Cassandra Garrison, head of online content, Metro US
“Tony loved the news, loved pushing the envelope, loved Metro, loved us. But he loved his family infinitely more. He talked about his wife and children every day and was so proud of each of them. His time may have been Metro’s, but his heart was always theirs.”
-Stephanie Hinderer, art director, Metro US, 2007– 2012
“Tony thrived in the toils of 12-hour workdays and yells of deadlines where others whither. Sure, he was passionate and blustery and at times cutthroat. All successful blue-collar blokes are, whether in England or America. But his best lessons for me come from his English subtlety. When there was harsh reality to convey, he’d give it straight and simple, then end with: ‘But there it is.’ For all his exaltations in the newsroom or boardroom, it was when he got quiet and gentle over a whiskey in his office that he shared the best insight. Alas, the British empire has lost an epic missionary for English subtlety and substance and Tony’s departure leaves a vast hole in the world of teeth-and-nails journalism. But there it is.”
-Brian McCrone, Philadelphia news editor, national news editor, 2006 -2013
“Tony will be remembered for his quick wit and his attempts to get me to use ‘proper syntax’ … which I probably am not even using right now. His love of his editorial team was well guarded but he bragged about them and the work they were doing so much.”
-Amanda Meyer, office admin/exec assistant to CEO, Metro US, 2010 – 2012
“Last summer my brother Peter lost his two-year battle with colon cancer at age 52. Tony told me to take as much time as I needed. After taking three days off for the wakes and funeral, I came back to work. Tony pulled me into his office and kind of yelled at me, asking me why I was back at work so soon and telling me to go back home. I told him I wanted to be here to take my mind off things. He saw I was having trouble fighting back tears so he told me to stay in his office until I was ready to start my shift. He left his office so I would have a moment to compose myself before heading back into the newsroom.”
-Billy Becerra, page designer, Metro US
“I just started working here at Metro (this is the summer of 2010), primarily on Achushakti and cleaning up ad-point. Tony offered to take me to the NY Yankees game with Rajeev and his guest and Amanda (our old office manager and her husband). As we are sitting watching the game, Tony decides to get to know me by interrogating me. He throws question after question at me about Nigerian immigration. What is it like to be a first generation immigrant? Why am I working here? My interests and aspirations? This goes on for what it felt like to be half an hour. Afterwards, he takes all of us to dinner at the neighboring Hard Rock Café. Much, much later, I found out that that is how Tony gets to know people, through interrogation. I will always remember him as a smart, witty, curious, generous and caring man.”
-Nnennaya Okoro, sales coordinator, Metro US
“At the Boston holiday party last year, I got the chance to introduce my wife, Katie, to Tony. Him being my boss and all, I told Katie to keep it civil despite most of us being three or four deep. They exchanged pleasantries, with Katie giving Tony the rundown on what she does for work: mental health therapy. It didn’t take long for Tony’s journalistic instincts to run wild. He grilled her for literally 20 minutes about her profession in front of a small group of co-workers. I’ll give my wife credit for holding her own, but Tony was hell-bent on making Katie question why her profession did certain things the way they did them. It seemed he was always questioning the world despite the world usually not wanting to answer the tough question. The conversation was contentious at times (most of it Tony’s doing) and while I never really thought I’d get a pink slip from Tony due to the verbal battle (at a Christmas party, no less) over therapy, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that my better half was going toe-to-toe with my boss. Tony never mentioned a word about it. The main reason for this is that I believe Tony likely had ‘conversations’ like that three or four times a day with people. He probably forgot he even had the conversation with my wife 10 minutes after it happened. He lived for the banter.”
-Matt Burke, Boston sports editor, Metro US
“The newsroom has been quieter since Tony left. He made it known when he needed something or someone with a loud call across the newsroom, and when he found something funny or outrageous or newsworthy he made sure everyone else knew that, too. He had amazing stories of his tabloid adventures in the U.K., and he shared them over drinks with different generations of reporters and editors (one involving taking a photo through a doggy door comes to mind). He pushed reporters to do the impossible — to get the quote, to find the art, to perfect the interview, to do it all within one Metro day, and because of him pushing, often, the impossible happened. A softer side of Tony emerged when he would Skype with his daughter, Freya, and he soaked up every new detail of her dancing classes, repeating them in the days before he would see his family. He said that his flight to the U.K. for Christmas was the best moment of the year.”
-Alison Bowen, senior features writer, Metro US
“I am obviously not a journalist, but I wanted to let you know that I truly believe that Tony Metcalf was our biggest asset at Metro US. He was an editor-in-chief who got it. He understood that Metro is a free newspaper wholly supported by advertising sales, and he worked with us to assist in any way that he could. No one was better on a sales call than Tony, and he helped close major clients like the NYC Department of Health, NYC Department of Education and J&R, to just name a few. I also looked at him as the rock of Metro. He bridged the gap between departments (editorial, sales and production) and was often on our side of the floor checking on things and helping again in any way possible.
Metro was his home away from home, and I always admired Tony for the sacrifice that he endured in order to provide for his family. Over the past five years, Tony spent more time with his work family than his actual family, and we were the better for it. We will miss him dearly and we will continue the fight to make him proud.”
-Ed Abrams, executive and national sales director, Metro US
“Tony Metcalf took a chance on me. When I was only 28 years old, he promoted me from transit reporter to City Editor of the New York edition of Metro. I’d only been at the paper for two years and was completely intimidated as to what exactly I had gotten myself into. But Tony believed in me and never let me doubt myself for a second. Those of us who worked there know we never had time for self-doubt with him running the paper! Tony constantly kept us on our toes and it made us better journalists. Tony gave me the chance to learn management skills, and to grow as a leader. He pushed the entire staff of Metro to work hard, and I learned so much from him. Tony took a chance on me and I will always be indebted to him for it. Rest in peace, boss. You left us too soon but you and the lessons you taught will never be forgotten. At least not by me.”
-Carly Baldwin, New York city editor, Metro US, 2009 – 2012
A True Metro Man
Tony Metcalf was well-known at Metro for his infectious sense of humor. In January 2013, not long before he fell ill, Tony attended the Metro International editorial conference in London with other Metro editors from around the globe. The editors were divided into two groups and charged with the task of making their own viral videos as a team-building exercise. Tony took on the starring role of “Metro Man,” a caped super hero who made it his mission to stop rude behavior on the subway. His part in the video was a hit and had the entire group laughing. For so many of us, he will always be remembered as a true “Metro Man.”