I served on the SEJ board with Kevin for the last six years and I’m having a hard time imagining our meetings—and our organization—without him. He was more than a rock for SEJ, he was up there on our Mt. Rushmore. He was a founding board member and the only member to serve in an elected board seat for the entire life of the organization—elected by his peers, by my count, at least five times. Which means that when we needed historical perspective or a recollection of long-ago debates and decisions, we almost invariably turned to him, and he almost invariably retrieved what we were looking for from a well-organized back corner of his brain. Kevin was a huge and irreplaceable part of our institutional memory.
But we didn’t just look to Kevin to help us remember SEJ’s past. He was always a huge part of our present and our future. In 1995, when many founding board members had already stepped down, moved on to other things or just plain gotten burned out, Kevin stepped forward to be conference co-chair for the 1996 meeting in St. Louis, the most demanding job that any board member can take on. Then, nine years later, when he was the last man standing from that original board, he did it again—volunteering to be chair of this year’s conference in his adopted hometown of Austin and shaking every tree in town to make it happen. He was determined to make the Austin conference one of our best, and I have no doubt that he would have. Scratch that—I have no doubt that he will have, because his vision and energy will be reflected in everything that goes on there next fall.
Personally, I never got to know Kevin real well. We worked side by side on the board, sometimes agreeing on tough issues, sometimes not, but always in the spirit of cooperation and dedication to the best interests of SEJ; we shared a whiskey after meetings, kicked around whatever town we were meeting in and occasionally even shared a hotel room, but as friendly and spirited as he was, he was also a very private person, not one to easily open up about his own life. Yet somehow he was always an important part not just of the business of the board and SEJ in general but also of its social fabric, that quality of warmth and welcome that has always made SEJ such an exceptional professional community.
Kevin’s dedication and his longevity on the board certainly earned him the right to weigh in on any subject as often and as loudly as he liked, but he never exercised this right, he never injected himself and his thoughts and opinions into the discussion any more than any other member. In fact, he didn’t speak very often at all at meetings. But when he did, what he had to say was always thoughtful and clear-headed, always advanced the discussion and always reflected a wisdom that belied his cowboy boot-wearing, cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking, sneaking-out-early-to-go-fishing persona. Kevin’s wisdom came from his 20+ years as one of the hardest noses on the beat, and one of the most dedicated and accomplished, from his deep and lasting commitment to SEJ as an organization, a community and a mission, and from his clear understanding of the relationship between the messy world of journalism and the even messier real world that all SEJ members have committed ourselves to report on accurately and without prejudice, but which we all are also part of. Which was important as anything else he brought to the meeting room. It’s a precarious balancing act for all of us, but Kevin pulled it off remarkably well in his own life and for 15 years helped make sure that SEJ did too. And will continue to.
Kevin was also, by the way, the only SEJ board member ever to hit for the cycle, holding at one point or another every office on the board—President, VP for Programs, VP for Membership, Treasurer and Secretary. Which reflects not any personal ambition (because really, who wants to be Secretary or Treasurer?), or even his longevity on the board, so much as his willingness to step up and do whatever was needed of him at the time, and to do it seriously and well. Although not, of course, without a healthy degree of goofiness. I mean, who can take himself too seriously wearing those crazy fishing shirts?
Kevin, I’m gonna dust off my cowboy boots and bring them to the Austin conference next fall—and I might even go out and get myself a big silver belt buckle and a shirt with fish on it and a tweed jacket to wear over it, too—and I’m gonna raise a glass, hit the dance floor at the Broken Spoke and kick it out one last time for you. Your fellow board members, SEJ members and journalists everywhere were lucky to have you as a colleague and a role model. We will miss you tremendously.