For much too long, we’ve been losing friends and colleagues at The Dallas Morning News. In my 19 years at one of the country’s most respected and once most robustly-staffed newspapers, we’ve had several layoffs and a couple of buyouts. We’ve had an unending exodus of talented journalists making the difficult choice to move on as our industry hemorrhages subscribers, revenue – and hope. The DMN used to be a place where journalists stayed for decades, often until retirement. Now it’s a place where we do what we can to stick together. Working our collective asses off to keep producing quality journalism. Searching for answers to our survival. Not knowing for certain, but having a painful feeling about, what’s ahead for the bedrock institution of local journalism that too many Americans won’t realize how desperately they need until it’s gone.
We had a large, gut-punch layoff and downsizing of our print edition earlier this year. In recent months, it seems like we’ve had a cake sendoff – sharing stories, hugs and tears, what we do when someone leaves for a new job – every other week.
These past three weeks, though, we’ve suffered the greatest of all losses: Three beloved longtime DMN journalists have joined the newspaper staff in heaven.
Late last month, Gerry Fraley, a baseball writer admired far and wide, succumbed to cancer.
This past weekend, gifted writer and celebrity connection deluxe Alan Peppard, who’d left The News less than two years ago, died suddenly of a heart attack at 56, leaving behind his wife, a 10-year-old daughter and twin 18-year-old daughters.
And Monday, while we were all mired in our grief, brilliant photographer/photo editor Guy Reynolds, he of the sharply focused eye for capturing images we all take for granted, lost his long fight with depression. This, after the brave, nearly three-year ass-kicking he gave cancer, starting with a Stage 4 diagnosis in his esophagus and ending with a resounding victory. In the end, it was Guy’s bipolar disorder, not cancer, that took him, and all of his gifts, from us. From his wife, Nancy Visser, also our dear colleague. From his teenage son, Drew. From his grown daughters. From his infant granddaughter.
Guy was known to say fuck cancer. Fuck depression, too.
Tuesday in the newsroom, with managing editor Keith Campbell in the lead, we all gathered for a moment of silence for our three departed friends and fellow journalists. Those who could do it without totally breaking down shared memories. We laughed. We cried. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re hurting and you want to remember some of the awesome things about the people you love who, in a tragic wink, aren’t here anymore.
Guy, he also of the big heart, spent years volunteering with Meals on Wheels, and he dearly loved the folks on his route. Here’s a photo essay he wrote a couple of years ago about his labor of love. (https://www.dallasnews.com/arts/visual-arts/2017/03/31/compassion-focus-photographer-documents-meals-wheels-route?fbclid=IwAR3WQbLT_7K8EtkoD3APIjDS8CuEbZzd9YfSCxnN7VH-5Ssi6CGLxuUTRVk)
I used to spend a lot more time on Facebook than I do now. One of the places I’ve always loved to visit is Guy’s page ( https://www.facebook.com/guy.reynolds.77 ), to see his photographic genius shine, like an exhibit in every post. I know I missed a lot of his work. Now that he’s gone, I’ll be going back through all of his photos, on his website, his FB, wherever I can find them.
Even when Guy was going through cancer treatments, surgeries, numerous trips back and forth to M.D. Anderson in Houston with Nancy, he never stopped shooting. I highly recommend this piece he wrote, complete with photos, documenting part of his cancer journey. (https://www.dallasnews.com/life/better-living/2018/10/01/cancer-photographer-guy-reynolds-instagram?fbclid=IwAR0Dt7OxkNPqAWJxMWXIAlqpYAzCW0HSvf8EUGm9_9BQ5QK_5D42G42OQuw)
Nancy sits two spots from me on the copy desk, and she’s been the most solid of rocks throughout the whole cancer ordeal, and as Guy has dealt with depression. And as she shared his passing on FB, she was totally open, just as Guy always was, no reason to hide anything.
I can’t get out of my head how Monday seemed like any old work day for the first couple of hours of our shift. We edited online stories, mixed with chit-chat. Nancy halved a chocolate cupcake with me. We talked about how shocking and sad Alan’s death had been. She offered congrats about my son’s high school graduation. One minute, she was raising the desk next to mine to stand and read over a page proof. The next minute, dammit, her day turned into a nightmare when she got a call from her son.
Shoot on, Guy. You’ll have plenty of grand photo ops where you are now.
And then there’s Alan, who, unfortunately, I didn’t get to know until a few years ago. Once I did, I regretted not having introduced myself sooner. Now that he’s gone … well, you know. I was lucky to get to edit some of the remarkable narrative writing he did in his later years at The News. What talent. What wit. What charm. What brilliance.
Here’s the beautiful obituary our Robert Wilonsky and Michael Granberry penned after Alan’s unfairly young passing. I’d say they did just right by him. https://www.dallasnews.com/business/the-dallas-morning-news/2019/06/09/alan-peppard-wrote-dallas-morning-news-30-years-dead-56
What’s also incredible about Alan, who, for years wrote the newspaper’s society column, is that he knew everyone – literally. I can’t even begin to imagine all the people who’ll turn out for his memorial service Thursday at Highland Park UMC.
I’ll always appreciate the kind words of support Alan gave me about the few stories I’ve written for the paper, especially those about my birth family. His compliments were genuine and I took them to heart.
Thanks, Alan. Hope they’ve got polo grounds up there.
Now, our newsroom family is pulling together, wrapping our arms around the families of our lost colleagues, as well as around one another. We can only hope these excruciating losses will take a breather for a while.
http://guydaho.com (Guy Reynolds’ photo website)