Perhaps it comes with being a certain age: eventually, you let your eyes skim the obituaries and realize that the names there are familiar, that they are suddenly people you’ve worked with and know professionally, people whose names are more than a flash of recognition but are more a short, sharp measureable sliver of the deep pool of memory.
It’s a different level of stratosphere.
For awhile, you’re slightly aware that people are passing away, but they tend to be famous people you’ve never even met or only might have run into occasionally.
Then you cross a line.
I think the line might well be the age of 51, because that’s where I am right now and there have been a rash of familiar names.
The first of this year?
Ray Guy in May.
I still have trouble believing he died, because I can close my eyes and still hear and see him laughing. (I’ve written about him before in this space, so I wouldn’t add much except to say he would have cracked a rib laughing over the NDP self-immolation, and he would have gotten columns out of it for weeks.)
Then, two more deaths that particularly hit home, not because I was close enough to be considered a friend of either of these two men. I’ve spent enough time with them, though, to conjure both up in mind easily.
I met Dr. Charles Hutton, for a long time the province’s chief forensic pathologist, so long ago that I first wrote a profile of him and his work in the 1980s or early ’90s.
He was funny, frank and, quite simply, able to spell out in plain terms a lot of stuff most people wouldn’t want to talk about.
His explanation, for example, of dealing with autopsies from the 1985 Arrow Air crash in Gander was fascinating in both its horror and simplicity; 256 passengers and crew, many of them fully fit, the same age, the same haircuts, the same dentistry, and many sharing the same set of healed fractures that you might expect from paratroopers — ankles, forearms and wrists.
It was, he said, like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle where many of the pieces were indistinguishable from one another.
He was curious, curt and deliberate.
You couldn’t always quote him, but you could always get a straight answer from him.
He did plenty to professionalize the way deaths were handled by the justice system, and unlike the typical typecast coroner, he was both extremely likeable and truly gregarious.
The only danger? When he started telling stories, it was hard to get him to stop. And they were stories indeed.
Then, there’s Ken Meeker. There’s been a lot written about Ken as a journalist since his death last week, and I have to say I didn’t ever work with him in that role.
By the time I met him, he was a municipal councillor in Mount Pearl and every bit the environmentalist he was throughout his life, concerned about flood plains and land use and wrecked cars and the beauty of this province being despoiled.
When he got you on the phone, he wouldn’t let go until you felt literally compelled to follow up on the story he was suggesting you write.
In fact, he found it hard to not dictate the way you should write it.
Meet him in person, and he’d drag you feet-first to whatever he wanted to show you — you could not refuse. He didn’t give you time to get a word in edgewise.
And anyone who ever spent any time with Ken would know this: he had a way of locking his eyes on yours and refusing to look away or blink.
He was a man possessed, and determined to implant that possession in you as well. Often, he did.
I suppose it is always the way. Communities will always lose their greater lights eventually.
I guess the difference for me right now, with these three, is that it’s lights that I’ve seen, bright and fiery and driven, with my own eyes.
And it’s difficult to imagine, to believe, that their lights have gone out.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.