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2001: A good friend gone; replaced by a huge void

Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Author: MARY LOU MONTGOMERY, Courier-Post Editor

My long, long time friend, Joe Nugent, died during the supper hour on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001. He was sports editor at the Courier-Post back during the post-Watergate days of the late '70s, in a time when a flood of young reporters came out of the Journalism School at the University of Missouri-Columbia, determined to be the next Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. During that era, student protests contributed to the end of the Vietnam War and political scandal became front-page news. Joe joined Courier-Post colleagues such as Susan Steers Denkler, Sandy Luipersbeck, Thom Gross, Lauri Vincent, JoAnne Hollister, Daryl Stevenson, Michael Gonzalez, Curt Wellman, Dave Lammers, Jim Salter, Gary Nolan, Rob Hill, Mark Prout, Bob Ross and more. All the same age, and all the same ambition. Proud to be journalists, these young people stumbled into Hannibal, made their names, left a mark, then went on to bigger adventures. A few stayed in journalism; most pursued more lucrative fields. Joe was one who stayed with the profession. After his stint with the Courier-Post, he landed as a copy editor at Champaign, Ill., where his encyclopedic mind made him a natural for editing the work of others. A tribute in their newspaper this week points out that he was beloved by the staff, and his absence will leave a huge void. I don't doubt that. I feel that same void in my heart. He was a funny man - always single - round as a ball, unkempt as journalists can be, consumed with his work and always loyal to his friends. He'd drive across the state to watch one of his former coach friends lead a high school team in the districts. He'd never say in advance he was coming - he'd just walk up the front sidewalk and sit down to visit for a couple of hours. Super intelligent. Heart as big as a the sky. You always knew he was just a phone call away. Never a bad word about anyone, but always willing to share a laugh. Joe stopped by the newsroom a few months ago, and I introduced him to all of the newcomers on the staff. He saw the column I had written on my 25th anniversary at this newspaper - in which I had mentioned his influence in my life - and he seemed pleased. Last week - the week the world changed - was a time made for journalists. We lived on adrenaline as we reported on the bombings in New York and our nation's capitol. As the week ended, Joe died right there in the newspaper office - of course. He was only 45. That evening, I talked to a couple of my journalism pals by phone, sharing the news. We're all stunned. Sad. Reflective. We're united in our past and memories. His editor at the office in Champaign told me if Joe had to go, he's glad Joe died at the office, surrounded by people who cared about him, rather than at home, alone. I agree. I read a verse in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes this week that brings this point home to me. "But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up." Joe was surrounded by friends, who will miss him.

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