Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Have You Hugged a Journalist Lately?

I lost a special person recently. His name was Rich Ramirez. When I was a young copy editor with so much to learn at the San Jose Mercury News in the early 1980s, an enthusiastic, hard-working intern with a great smile came to work on the copy desk. Rich was fresh out of USC. Rich never left the Merc. He went on to hold a number of reporting and editing positions at the paper, the last 12 years as assistant to the executive editor. Just days after organizing a highly successful National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention and one day after learning there would be dozens more layoffs at the Merc and that his position would likely be eliminated, Rich apparently took his own life. We had kept in contact over all these years, including an e-mail a day before his death. My sympathies are with his wife and other relatives, as well as the "Mercury News family" that those of us who have worked there over the years have become a part of. I went to Rich's memorial service last week, and was amazed at the huge crowd of mourners. It was evident Rich had touched so many lives. The comments in this online guest book reinforce that. Rich and I shared a love for photography. He had wanted to know if I was coming to the conference so he could share photos from his three-week European vacation with me. Sadly, I wasn't able to attend. However, I was able to see some of his images in a slide show presentation that was shown at the service. I am so fortunate to have known him.

A number of stories have been written about him. I particularly enjoyed an opinion piece written by a friend of his, John Diaz at the San Francisco Chronicle. Here is an excerpt from that wonderful piece. You can read the entire article here.

Smooth-running conventions don't just happen. Behind every successful
convention are the volunteers who handle all the essential details. Behind every
effective band of volunteers is an organizer with a vision, a checklist and the
right blend of charm and persistence to cajole the troops.

At NAHJ that was Rich Ramirez, a 44-year-old executive assistant, from
the San Jose Mercury News.

In the weeks leading up to the convention, Ramirez was peppering his
colleagues around the country with e-mail requests, big and small. He sent
spreadsheets with detailed marching orders for volunteers. He made last-minute
pitches for editors to shake down their publishers for $1,500-a-hole
sponsorships for the charity golf tournament. He even sent out an appeal for a
baby sitter on behalf of a CNN producer.

The convention was a huge success and no one seemed to be having a
better time than Rich when I caught up with him at an opening-night reception.
As always, he was quick with a smile and quick with questions about how things
were going with my life and job.

Four days after the convention, Rich Ramirez was found dead in the backyard of his Livermore home, with a knife wound in his midsection. Police still suspect it was a suicide, by about the most painful and difficult method imaginable.

Those who knew Rich Ramirez could not say which was more inconceivable:
That he would take his life or that someone would want to hurt a man who
radiated such brightness and generosity. One could only speculate: Was it the
angst and uncertainty that has gripped the profession he loved? Or was it a
deeply personal pain that no one who thought they knew him ever recognized?

On Thursday, Rich was eulogized at a memorial service in San Jose. The
church was overflowing with family, friends, colleagues.

... One question came up, over and over, as his friends and colleagues
marveled at the size of the crowd and depth of sentiment at the memorial
service: "I wonder if he knew how much he was appreciated?"
I know what you're thinking about the Rich Ramirezes who bind the communities in your lives. Don't wait, don't assume they know. Tell them.