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He always had the right words

I don’t know where to start. And the man I used to call when I was stuck is not at the other end on the phone, now.

I don’t have the right words. But he did. For 46 years he poured words onto the page for readers as a reporter, an editor, a columnist … there were times in his career when he had to do it all for the smaller newsrooms where he worked. And he did.

My dad had me roped into the newspaper business as early as I can remember. Some of it’s a jumbled blur. Pulling pages off the big machine that spit out wire photos and handing it to someone to be marked up with a grease pencil; pulling film off the drying line in the back … just standing there listening to the clack, clack, clack of typewriters and old phones ringing. The smell of pipe smoke, ink, dark room chemicals and paper in a tiny office in Sistersville. Men like my dad and Adam Kelly rolling around on their office chairs asking big questions and doing important things.

He knew I was hooked. And looking back, it seems bizarre that he trusted a 17-year-old to take on a full-time job in his newsroom in Wheeling, taking obituaries. But he did. I guess he knew what he had taught me, and that there was no turning back once the ink was in my blood, too.

Oh, the things he taught me. I know I will spend the rest of my career asking myself, “What would Dad have said about this? What would Dad have done?” when I’m facing something tricky. But what he taught me about being a person is making all the difference right now. I’m sad. I miss my dad — more than I can express. But I’m not lost. My parents made sure I was going to be able to stand on my own. If they hadn’t showed me how to do something, they’d showed me how to figure it out.

He conducted himself as a person the same way he did as a journalist. Fearless, curious, straightforward and honest; and always trying to do the right thing. He asked questions … a lot of them. For years, there was a running joke at West Virginia Press Association forums and panel discussions that Mike Myer would have the last question or four. (He was a master at follow-up questions.) Part of that was because he wanted to understand. He wanted to know. But mostly he wanted to have enough of a grasp on the subject to tell readers what THEY needed to know. Newspaper readers have no idea what they have lost.

He worked at a pace four people could not match. I remember talking once with a colleague from a different newspaper in West Virginia. She asked me how much Dad wrote in a week. When I told her the truth, she said “That’s impossible. How?!?”

I don’t know how.

I don’t know how he did all that he did and still managed the rest. He loved my mom; and hated being apart from her. Sometimes, if he was away for work, he’d drive through the night to come home rather than staying in a hotel. He loved the rest of us. And thank God my niece and nephew know how much Grandad loved them; and that he had been teaching them how to learn and explore and make a difference, too.

It was important to him to help other people. Whether that be the countless young people he brought into the newspaper business and then built up so they could either fly on to something else or do good things in our newsrooms; or the many, many people who will never know he was the one who slipped all he could into the red kettles, or dropped off a check when he heard there was a need. A friend asked me what organizations she should tell people they can donate to, in Dad’s honor. After the list of organizations I knew he had tried to help grew too long, I told her, “Just tell them if they think it will help someone, do it.”

I just checked my word count; and I’m not finished. Maybe I won’t ever be, and that’s OK. But he’d be telling me to wrap things up, now.

He loved to be outside, camping and hiking; he loved history and his books; he loved digging into genealogy (I won’t be getting any more calls, “Hey, guess who you’re related to …”); he loved going fast — cars, boats, beating his own time hiking up some ridiculous mountain trail. He found joy in a lot of things. I can still learn a lot from that, too.

I miss my dad. But I remember the day he read something I wrote in high school, and not for the first or last time said “You can do this.” Because of him, I can.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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