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Friday, June 05, 2009

In memoriam

Although I'm feeling quite rusty on the blogging front, I'm moved to post a mini celebration of a life that filled some, including me, with equal parts laughter and aggravation.

Terry Harper was the executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists. He died on Wednesday from a recurrent, malignant brain tumor. I'm sure he wouldn't want to be remembered for his SPJ work. First and foremost, he was husband and father to Lee Ann, Dale and Jace. His family is what filled him with joy. My prayers are with them through this difficult time.

We chatted often of our families and compared notes on what the boys were doing or not doing and how we were faring as parents. Our last conversation was difficult. I was leaving SPJ and he was just starting treatment for his brain tumor. But rather than dwell on that, I am smiling as I remember him.

That's because Terry's gift was laughter. Not only could he make others laugh, but his own robust guffaw was enough to drive anyone--literally--to tears.

He could be incredibly immature, as I learned on our trip to Korea in November 2004 and as my photos show. I will never, ever be able to hear the word plenary again, without his imitation of our Asian hosts pronouncing it, "Prenary."

But he made the trip a blast. To say Terry embraced karaoke would be an understatement. One of the first nights in Seoul, in what was a depressingly quiet hotel bar, Terry got up and bellowed, "My Way," in a manner that would make Old Blue Eyes himself smile from above.

He brought an entire ballroom of journalists, from across the world to its collective feet, cheering wildly with a spot-on rendition of Wild Cherry's, "Play That Funky Music."

Terry had a flair for the dramatic. His face could contort on a dime. Watching him attempt to sit cross-legged at a traditional Korean dinner was downright comical. He was little heavy, had on a bulky sweater and was sweating profusely while trying to get into position. I laughed heartily at the sight.

After many shots and on a long bus ride back from the southern part of the country to Seoul, our favorite Aussie journalist started telling jokes. I won't attempt to retell the tale because it definitely falls in the "you had to be there" category, but our Aussie friend's delivery of the story about a dog on a plane was hysterical and Terry was wheezing and crying and only added to the humor of the story because he was completely unglued. Makes me smile nearly five years later to remember how much he enjoyed that joke.

I don't know how much Terry suffered in the end. I haven't spoken to him in two years. My hope is that it wasn't painful. In true Terry fashion, he wrote his final words here. And while it is touching and beautifully written (something he did well despite his lack of being a journalist), he also used his gift--his humor.

His passing filled me with great sadness. But then I smile. Because somewhere in heaven, Terry Harper is telling God a joke about a kerfuffle involving a dog on a plane in his best Aussie accent. I like to think he's warming up the crowd before he takes a shot of Maker's Mark and launches into, "My Way."

(This photo of Terry performing, "My Way" is shaky because I was laughing so hard.)