Just buy the damn Diet Pepsi. Those are words that I’m replaying in my mind, over and over and over in the past few days.For those who don’t know, David Melson passed away after a short …
Just buy the damn Diet Pepsi.
Those are words that I’m replaying in my mind, over and over and over in the past few days.
For those who don’t know, David Melson passed away after a short battle with an illness and his impact to this business, town and community can’t be overvalued.
David had an interesting personality and everyone has their own personal stories with him, from working with his dad, legendary sports editor Bo Melson, to his time working the police beat, to his near 50-year career working at the Times-Gazette.
My experience with David goes back to the fall of 2011.
I really owe David a lot for me being able to find a trajectory to a 12-plus year career covering sports at the Times-Gazette.
In 2011, I worked for a newspaper in North Carolina and I was at my wits end and ready to call it a (short) career after just a year and a half after graduating due to a disagreement in production processes.
I applied to so many newspapers and jobs, just wanting the break to continue my journalism career.
Eventually, I had a phone interview with several folks from the Times-Gazette, which David was included on.
After the interview, I flew into Tennessee to meet with the staff and decide if this would be a good fit.
Hey, for a 23 year-old, this was a no-brainer, even if it meant packing up my life and moving seven hours due west with no ties to Middle Tennessee.
I remember that day I flew in, meeting the staff of the Times-Gazette, but it was David who really asked questions and my thoughts on how the sports department should run.
It’s been well over a decade ago and I don’t remember the particulars of what was said between us, but I do remember that we agreed on a lot of the same views of sports coverage.
I found out some years later, David’s input from that initial trip had a lot to do with me being hired here.
After being hired, I quickly realized I would be running the production process through David on a daily basis.
For a 23 year-old kid who was still green in the business, I was eager to learn.
I quickly learned about David’s family and legacy and just what the Melson name meant to this community.
Between Bo and David, I realized fairly quickly those two ate, breathed, dreamed and lived local news.
Nobody did it better.
David and I’s relationship grew to be one of mutual respect over many years of staff reductions, deadline changes and overall changes in the print journalism business.
I’d bounce ideas off David, he’d bounce ideas off me and we worked well together.
For a young guy to get hired into an established newspaper with credence that the Times-Gazette has, it’s a blessing for me to have always had a safety net like David looking over everything.
That’s what he was for me, for years.
David was a copy editor, who was the ultimate safety net.
Sure, things slipped past both of us, but if he gave me a thumbs up on a proof, I trusted him and went with his judgement, and eventually, he did the same with me, when it came to bouncing ideas and proofs off each other.
It never failed when it came to work-related issues—if I needed something from him, David stepped to the plate every time.
Just this past fall, there was a mixup, on my end, in production deadline communication and I ended up sitting in a deer stand during production for the Marshall County Tribune, thinking the production was due to take place the next day.
When you’re on a hill, on a ridge line in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia, there’s not a lot of options you have for producing a quality sports section, when all your content was due to be finished that night.
When David and I realized the issue, he immediately sprung into action and, in true copy editor form, saved my tail.
If you knew David, the man put away Diet Pepsi like it was going out of style and I told myself I’d get him a 12-pack as a thanks for really bailing me out in a pinch.
I remember coming back and seeing the price at the time for sodas and thought, “Well, that’s an absolutely ridiculous price, I’ll get him when they go on sale.”
Days after turned into weeks, and I quite honestly forgot about getting him a 12-pack of soda—until I got the text on Monday morning that said David had been moved to a hospice facility for his final days in his battle with his illness.
Immediately, I went through all the stages of grief, with an added one—guilt.
All I could think about was how I didn’t do something so simple as getting a $10 12-pack of diet soda as a gesture of thanks.
I of course thanked him over and over again when I saw him upon returning from my trip and he knew I was grateful for filling in during a pinch.
I stood in and helped him in various instances over the years—it was just a mutual understanding and respect between us.
I got the opportunity to visit with David in the hospice facility with several Times-Gazette coworkers and former coworkers, and I was truly glad I got the chance.
A lot of times when people are in the type of hospice care David was, you say things and look for physical responses and hope those are signs of your words and gestures being received as a level of comfort.
I sat a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi on the night stand next to his bed and told him I knew he needed it to make it through the day, along with a little note I wrote on the label.
It doesn’t make up for me not buying the 12 pack many months ago, but I know he heard me when I told him I sat it there.
For someone to dedicate nearly 50 years of their life to a craft and community like David did to the Times-Gazette and Bedford County, it just speaks to his level of dedication to both the job and what he held important in this life.
I know I wouldn’t be half the journalist I am without having worked with him for over a decade and I know many others echo the same sentiment.
David was a hell of a journalist and a staple of this community for years and years and I know that without a doubt, he lived up to the legendary reputation his dad, Bo, established for community journalism.
When someone passes, it does a lot of things, like bringing together former acquaintances and coworkers to support a friend in need.
Having looked back through over a decade’s worth of memories and stories working with David, I keep coming back to that instance last fall over Thanksgiving.
I know he didn’t think anything else of filling in and helping me put together a quality sports section because that’s what David did.
His dedication was to the news and producing award-winning local journalism.
But while he didn’t think anything else of it, I have.
While going through all the stages of grief associated with losing a coworker, it just makes you put everything in perspective.
Life can be here one day and gone the next.
Take the trip. Buy the dress. Book the concert.
And buy the damn Diet Pepsi.
Chris Siers is sports editor of the Times-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.
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