I've been thinking about Bob Maynard. It seems impossible, but it's been 20 years, almost 21, since he died of cancer at just 56.

Robert C. Maynard was the editor and then the publisher of the Oakland Tribune. Unbelievably, when he took over as editor in 1979, he was the first African-American editor of a major metropolitan newspaper. Until that late date, African-Americans had only led the newsrooms at black newspapers. Four years later, he became the first African-American publisher of a major metropolitan paper.

I was working at the San Francisco Examiner when Maynard recruited me to come to the Tribune. People came from all over the country to work for him. We had one of the most, if not the most, diverse newspaper staffs in the country.

I'm sure he was glad to see people who looked like him in the newsroom for a change, but that was not his primary motivation.

"As much as I might be concerned about the effects of segregation and bigotry in the news on blacks, I am even more concerned about its effects on the whole of our society," he wrote in 1978. "I contend and will contend for as long as I live, that it is impossible for all Americans to understand what they should about each other if only some kinds of Americans get to control the telling of the story." When he wrote that, fewer than 4 percent of newspaper journalists were people of color.

Maynard was a visionary, understanding that it is impossible for a newspaper to accurately reflect a city if the reporters, editors and photographers don't reflect the city. You need a diverse staff to get the story right.

To that end, he was one of the founders of the Institute for Journalism Education that trained hundreds of journalists of color. Now named the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and headed by Maynard's daughter Dori Maynard, the organization continues to promote diversity in newsrooms.

The Tribune under Maynard was the laboratory for his ideas. For nine years, until his health failed, he inspired the staff and set high standards. He illustrated that diversity made good journalism. It wasn't just the right thing to do; it was the smart thing to do.

He was also a visionary regarding the potential of the Internet. I remember hearing him say that one day people would read the newspaper on their computers. Back then it sounded far-fetched. When newspaper leaders were ignoring the Internet, to the industry's detriment, Maynard saw its potential.

I've often thought that if he had lived, he would have been a pioneer of online news. While the industry waited until the Internet was undermining print media before it started trying to incorporate it, Maynard most likely would have been working with the new developments, even contributing to them. Under him, the Tribune may have led the newspaper industry in figuring out a new business model that would allow newspapers to thrive in the Internet age.

Instead, papers have been forced to scramble to figure out how to make money online. The result has been a huge contraction in the industry, with papers closing and staffs greatly reduced. According to the American Society of News Editors' most recent survey, the number of newspaper journalists decreased by 6.4 percent from 2012 to 2013. The effects extend beyond newsrooms as issues, institutions and government agencies are not being covered.

As the industry shrinks, hundreds of veteran journalists of color have been laid off or left the business. The percentage of minority journalists in newsrooms has remained between 12 and 13 percent, less than one-third of the nation's minority population.

It's not the newspaper industry Maynard envisioned — he was working for stronger, more inclusive journalism -- or one he would even recognize.

I'm not sure Oaklanders understood they had a visionary running the Tribune. I'm not sure those of us at the paper were completely aware of it. Looking back, those days seem like a golden age when we were pushed and allowed to practice the highest quality journalism.

The Maynard years were also critical to my longevity in the business. During that time, I knew a number of black journalists at other papers who left the business. They were worn down by always having to justify what they thought was newsworthy to editors who weren't interested in an opinion shaped by experiences different from their own.

Being at the Tribune where Maynard encouraged fresh thinking and valued diverse backgrounds, I escaped that numbing discouragement when I was still developing confidence as a journalist. I owe Maynard a lot.

Oakland and the newspaper industry were strengthened by his vision. I can't stop thinking that if he had lived, the landscape for newspapers might have been completely different.

This is my last column in my fill-in assignment. Tammerlin Drummond has completed her Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University and returns with loads of information to share. I've enjoyed rekindling my relationship with you.

Contact Brenda Payton at bpayton77@gmail.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bpayton77.