COLUMN: Great storyteller, good friend silenced
Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013 10:20 pm
The last time Larry Oakes paid a visit to talk about journalism, our jobs and just life in general was a couple months ago.
As is so frequent in this sometimes wacky but always fascinating business, a story in the works triggered another meeting, conversation and catch-up on life between two friends.
It was a very good hour that we had together.
Larry was working on a perspective piece as northern Minnesota correspondent for the Star Tribune on the affiliation of the Virginia Regional Medical Center with Essentia Health of Duluth.
He came to the MDN to background himself on the years of long and agonizing history of what led Virginia officials to seek a partnership for the city-owned VRMC. For many of us, Larry had the gold standard job — a correspondent in a region we lived in and loved for a newspaper that is one of the best in the country.
But Larry was not above the daily grind of those of us in the hinterland. He was a grinder himself who had great respect for the work of those toiling out of the spotlight of big-city media.
Larry could take a local issue with statewide interest, such as a rural hospital’s change in ownership or a police chief’s battle with his elected bosses and also the men and women who were in his charge, and weave the story with clarity and emotion that made it understandable to readers elsewhere who previously didn’t know or even care about the issue. It takes a lot of reporting and writing talent and professionalism to do that.
But it was the human condition that Larry could capture in words like few others. He made sure the afflicted and down-and-out were not left in life’s trash heap. They, too, despite their problems and troubled or poor lot in life, were more than worthy of having their stories told; their feelings known; their despair revealed; their hopes and dreams appreciated. It takes a writer with a good heart and soul to do that.
When we last met, Larry and I, thank goodness, spent much more time talking about life than the VRMC saga. We compared notes on family and some mutual friends in the newspaper business.
Then we talked for a while about Larry’s health. He had been quite ill not that long ago, but Larry said he was doing well.
“I’m feeling good now,” he said.
“Thank God. You look good, man,” I said.
We parted with plans to hoist a beer soon at a new watering hole in Duluth, where he lived. It would, sadly, be a brew never shared.
Larry died Jan. 4, at his own hand, at age 52. Life’s burdens had become too much for a fine man of always meaningful and often beautiful words.
His son, Mike, talked openly in a news story of his suicide that was triggered by depression — a terrible, hideous affliction and far too often a silent killer.
He said that Larry had been taking anti-depression medicine for at least five years and had been hospitalized on Jan. 2 after telling his children that he was having suicidal thoughts. That Friday he drove to Hawk Ridge, on the northeast edge of Duluth, hiked about a mile into the woods and shot himself.
The news of Larry’s passing and how he died was a sad and wrenching kick in the gut. Such a good, good guy with so much talent now silenced and gone and oh so missed.
Larry, I will raise that beer to you and your spirit this weekend.