Matt Hutchison and I had our ups and downs at the Amarillo Globe-News, but when stuff got tough, or it didn’t feel like my voice was enough, he always had my back. When no one would listen, or when I’d get so fired up that I could no longer articulate my defense, he’d jump in, calm the waters and help me find a solution.
About a week and a half ago, I had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated him and to thank him for his guidance and support. I texted him, asking if I could list him (yet again) as a reference for a job to which I was applying. He responded with an enthusiastic yes and told me he was also about to start a new chapter in his life as a special projects manager at Amarillo Independent School District. His happiness and excitement at this opportunity came over even in text and I couldn’t help but also be happy for him.
Hearing the news this morning of his death was devastating, but I’m thankful we were able to have one last conversation and I took the opportunity to let him know how much his support in and out of the newsroom meant to me. Most of today has been spent in some state of tears, remembering the three years I spent at AGN and Matt’s impact on my life.
I walked into AGN for my first day as an intern in May 2013. I had one news writing class under my belt and a semester of experience at the Amarillo College paper, The Ranger.
That first week was an overwhelming, fast-paced mix of information overload as I shadowed the various departments. But when it came time to learn about online editing, Matt was the complete opposite. He sat with me, patiently explaining all of the ins-and-outs of the AGN website, social media accounts and the way we posted stories. After the hectic couple of days I’d already had, the slower pace was welcome, but at one point, I let myself relax a little too much.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, at the end of a huge yawn. Matt just smiled and said, “It’s OK. I know how you feel. We’ve got little ones at home.”
I asked about his kids, he asked about my school stuff and why I wanted to be a journalist, and our friendship began. His feedback on my stories made me a better reporter and a better writer. I learned what questions to ask, the people to pose them to and how to tighten up their answers when paraphrasing.
He was a damn good editor, offering guidance without being overbearing – he let me grow into the best version of the journalist I could be and constantly let me know how much he appreciated my dedication, my passion and my contribution to the paper where he’d spent much of his own short life. When my internship concluded, he was one of the people who not only championed my hiring as a reporter, but also encouraged me to stick to my guns and not let anyone convince me to go full time without first completing my education.
Occasionally, we’d butt heads – I’d get stuck in the weeds of a story and bust my deadline, or one of us would balk at a story we didn’t think was fit to print. But after it was all said and done and the paper was finally sent to the presses, we’d move past it and on to the next bit of breaking news with no hard feelings.
One summer, I was temporarily moved into the morning online editor position as he picked up some of the slack from the lack of a managing editor. We worked the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and in those wee hours, we sat on opposite sides of the same desk, bonding over bouts of early morning breaking news and our shared inability to ever quite make it in by 6 a.m.
He was a bottomless well of knowledge and I will always remember those mornings as one of my favorite parts of my time at AGN. He told me stories about the newsroom, both history and rumors, and I shared my thoughts about the future of the paper and my career. He’d share anecdotes about his little ones and I’d tell him stories about my nieces and nephews. Sometimes, we’d laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe, but for the life of me I can’t remember what those times were about. I wish I could remember. But I guess it’s enough that I remember the joy of those moments.
Even after I left the newsroom, he supported me, serving as a reference for the many jobs I applied to – I’m certain his glowing recommendation played a big part in getting me into Southwest Airlines this summer and my current position as a writing intern at Texas Tech University. I will forever be grateful for his support, guidance and encouragement.
It was too soon, Matt, way too soon. It’s not fair that you won’t get to experience the life you would have after AGN, when you were so freaking excited about it. I’m so mad about that. You deserved it, after all the work you put in to get there. I’m so sorry, Matt.
Thank you for the impact you had on my life and countless others. May you rest in peace, my friend.