“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~ Mary Engelbreit
In today’s tips and trix, I remember my father, who passed away sixteen years ago. His death marked the first seeds of Executrixie and I remain thrilled at Executrixie’s growth as I continue to help families after the death of a loved one.
I share with you one of my favorite stories written about him. I am so grateful to have these words and those conversations with those over the years who were helped by him. I hope somehow to share this wisdom with my children, who never really met him.
Gone, but certainly not forgotten
Christopher J. Kelly
Publication Date: December 27, 2003
His voice is still on the answering machine, but he’s not there.
He’s not upstairs sitting in on a trial, not down the hall sifting through the day’s court filings or catching a smoke with a courthouse insider who trusts him enough to tip him on a upcoming arrest.
He’s not hurridly filing a story on deadline, scribbling reminders on his copy of the daily docket or showing a young reporter how to boil a legalese-laden settlement down into terms understandable to readers who don’t have juris doctorates.
Ray Flanagan isn’t covering the Lackawanna County Courthouse anymore.
Ray is gone. From the building he made accessible to every citizen through his words and from the lives of those he touched in the small ways that all too often don’t get celebrated until it’s time to say goodbye.
Ray as a fixture at the courthouse, as seemingly permanent as the benches in the courtrooms he covered for more than a decade, For those who knew him, it is inconceivable that he won’t be there anymore.
But he won’t. Ray died last week, shortly after beating colon cancer. He was 60.
At his funeral on Monday, family and friends said the kinds of things about Ray that I hope just one person says about me when I’m gone. Their words were deeply moving, especially when they had a hard time finding them. It was a fitting celebration of a man we were all lucky to know, and yet it somehow seemed inadequate too small for someone with such a big heart.
Ray and I were not good friends. We didn’t hang out. We didn’t talk every day. I’ve never been to his house and I never met his wife, Anne Therese, who died in January 1999. I’ve been told enough good things about her to truly regret that.
Ray and I worked together, but at a distance. I admired him more than I knew him. He was the kind of man and journalist that I want to be — kind, giving, fair and driven. He was good to me in the rarest of ways. He took the time to share what he knew about what we do. No matter what I asked him, he never made me feel stupid, or that I didn’t know what I was doing, even when I didn’t.
Ray always had an encouraging word, real-time advice or a ready joke to lighten the heaviest mood. He was good. That’s as plain as I can say it.
Early last week, I was covering the courthouse while Ray recovered from his latest surgery. The word from those who had seen him was that it went well and he was excited about getting back to work. Everywhere I went in the courthouse, people asked how Ray was doing.
I told them he’d be back soon. That’s what I had heard, and what I believed. He loved his job, so much so that at one point he was taking chemotherapy in the morning and heading to the courthouse afterward. It was more than a paycheck to Ray, and it shows in the massive body of work he leaves behind.
I called the Times courthouse extension on Wednesday, the way I often did before I stopped over. The voice mail eventually picked up. It was Ray: “You have reached the courthouse office of the Scranton Times-Tribune, and the desk of Ray Flanagan. Please leave a message, and we’ll get right back to you.”
I didn’t leave a message. I didn’t know what to say.
The courthouse was dark and solemn on Wednesday. It was Christmas Eve, and there was just a skeleton crew around when I showed up to do an interview. On my way to the office I was visiting, I stopped by the room that still smells like Ray’s cigarettes.
The door was locked. The lights were out. Except for the cold ghost of Ray’s warm voice, the room was empty. Some said it was especially sad that Ray passed so close to Christmas. I thought so, too, at first. But standing outside the locked door of the office he filled so completely, I couldn’t help thinking that if he had to go, there couldn’t have been a better time.
After all, this is the season of giving. Ray gave everything he had, every day to everyone and every story he could. Because of that, he will never really be gone. That’s the message Ray Flanagan left for all of us.
CHRIS KELLY, the SaturDay columnist, will never forget the work and heart of Ray Flanagan