My most difficult assignment

A while ago, I was called upon to do an obituary for the first time. I would have had trouble in any circumstance, given my own feelings about death, but this one was about someone I knew personally.

I had met this gentleman — a fellow journalist, it so happens — a few years, when I was brand new to the business. He was speaking at an event and I introduced myself after the program. I found him most open, as opposed to some of the people in this and ancillary professions I’ve come across over the years.

(An aside, because I have ADD (not really, and I mean no disrespect tho those who do) — In many cases, once I ID myself and my company, a switch goes off in their head and they lose interest. If you don’t represent a major outlet, or can do something to further their interests, they’re ready to move on to the next “pretty girl,” so to speak. (One of the rare exceptions was a major sports personality who spent an hour on the phone with me when I was basically just a free-lancer working on a piece for an academic journal. He told me how he never differentiated between members of the press from the NY Times vs. the little community paper, that everyone deserved the same amount of respect. Very impressive.))

From time to time, I would run into this gentleman and we entered into a friendly relationship. I called on him as the source of a few stories, since he was an expert in his field. He was always generous with his time and thoughts and I came to look upon him as a sort of mentor.  I was quite saddened when I learned of his illness a year or so ago and continued to keep in touch.

As a member of our readership community, when he passed away I was asked if I wanted to do the obit, something I had never attempted before.

Perhaps it would have been better if I had not known him. It was hard to be objective. I felt sticking to the facts was woefully inadequate. I wanted the piece to be respectful, admiring, thoughtful, not matter-of-factly.

The assignment got me to thinking: how do you sum up a person’s life in just a few paragraphs? This guy was a major personality, a well-respected, hard-working newsman, prolific author, family man. How can you do justice to that in 500 words? You look back when it’s written and no matter how eloquent it might be, you wonder “Is that all there is?”

Rest in peace, my friend.

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