Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Best of Us — Goodbye to a Great Friend

When we go to work every day, whether we try to or not, we balance the positives and negatives of the day ahead.

For some lucky folks this means embracing a job they love. Some people — most I would say — find a manageable middle ground with their job. 
For others, the negatives outweigh the good and they soldier through each day, working for their weekends.
Becky with our friend Brent, one of the many, many
people who benefited from her wisdom inside and
outside of the office.

As a reporter for a small, regional newspaper the latter applied to me and some good friends for a while. About seven years and a lifetime ago, I started working with a team of hard working reporters, photographers and copy editors. 

For the bulk of my tenure we were led by folks who consistently said one thing and did another, and asked far, far more of us than they themselves were ever willing to give. 

It was the definition of a grind and it was, at times, poisonous. It was also just the type of environment in which truly great people stand out and my colleague, my friend, Becky Malkovich did this every, single day. 

In the midst of an industry that is dying and while working for a paper that seems resigned to this fate, Becky was impervious. Indeed Becky found a way to rise above with every single story she wrote. And she wrote more than most reporters could ever hope and at a level of quality few, if any, have equalled. 

Community news is as unglamorous as it gets. There are long, tedious meetings followed by late nights and early mornings. But community news also happens to be the news that affects most people in the most direct fashion. Becky valued this fact and it showed by every measure imaginable. 

She was an absolute pro.

As a fellow reporter, you couldn't help but be envious of her sources. Cultivated by her magnetic personality and uncompromising integrity, they were sprinkled throughout Southern Illinois' 16 counties and beyond. I never saw, and never heard of a story getting by her — ever. 

As a writer, she was brilliant. She knew the value of a catchy lede to hook readers and a tight nut graph, to lay the groundwork for the story ahead. 

She was living, breathing proof that the old adage that journalists were either good writers or good reporters — but never both in one — was total baloney. Becky was both and she was both every day for about three decades.

As a young reporter, working with other young reporters, photographers and copy editors, we all knew what she was. And, we were smart enough to value it. To learn what we could. To take note of her habits. To adopt as much of her awesome shine as we possibly could. As a group, we loved her and we loved working with her.

That was another of Becky's amazing qualities, her brilliance had a way of rubbing off on people whether it be colleagues, or subjects for a story. Among the many, many lessons Becky taught me, one is the value of letting your guard down and simply finding reason to have a laugh — with anyone at any time. 

Even if our paths didn't cross for a week or two, it was always reassuring to see her name (usually on the front page, above the fold) in our paper. She was the most brilliant feather in our collective cap and for many of us, she was the rock upon which the credibility of an entire company rested. 

She was never competitive with us and thank God for that. Instead, Becky chose to be the rising tide that lifted all of our ships and allowed us to sail higher, together.  

As a journalist, as a professional, as a pillar of her community, Becky Malkovich was all of these things. 

As a person, she was so, so much more. 

When my wife and I had a tough turn of luck, Becky reached out to us, just as she did for countless others. She gave. Without hesitation and, really, without end.  

She was funny. She loved to laugh. She was smart. She asked questions about you; she had insatiable curiosity and shunned any form of credit or praise directed her way. That last point is no small one considering how many accolades she garnered and how much appreciation she engendered. 

She was also a sister and a mother of two young men. 

I will miss my friend incredibly and I mourn for the many who were fortunate enough to know her better than I. 

I always felt I took more from Becky than she ever got from me and I think many others feel the same way. It's a feeling imbued with guilt but it's also a measure of just how amazing she was.  

POST SCRIPT: One of Becky's good friends Ashley Wiehle-Fram wrote a beautiful, perfect obituary. Read it here and learn more about this brilliant woman. 


Laura Chapman said...

This is a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. Well said and done, Blackwell.

Blackwell said...

Thanks Laura. I hope you're well.

Darla Wiehle said...

What a wonderful article - and as Ashley's mother, thank you for the mention of her at the end. I only met Becky a handful of times but I know she often said that "Ashley was the daughter she never had." I loved her dry sense of humor and the ability to be funny without even trying.

A huge loss to so many.