Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Remembering Mike Hoyem

I was planning to post a few silly things this afternoon, but then the real world has intruded in a very tough way. Mike Hoyem, a friend, died early this morning. Mike was a veteran reporter with the News-Press in Fort Myers, my former newspaper. He was a way-too-young 51.

When I first started at the News-Press as a rookie crime reporter in 1993, Mike was in his late 30s and had already covered everything under the sun. And he'd spent a lot of time under it. With his hard-burnt tan and easy-going style, he seemed like the classic Gulf Coast guy. He didn’t need to be kind to me. He just was. He’d offer gentle and always on-the-mark critiques of my work. Even after I left the newspaper, he would contact me every now and then with story tips. We'd catch up, but it was always quick, the way things are when life is flying by you at 85 mph.

Mike smoked a lot, which is almost surely the reason he got lung cancer in the late fall. I last saw him a few weeks ago at a party at his home. It was supposed to lift his spirits, but people there knew it was also a goodbye celebration. As a great local blues ensemble jammed outside his door, Mike sat on his couch inside. He looked like he'd aged 30 years. When my wife and I walked in to see him, his eyes perked up just a bit, but there was no smile. He'd recently gone through chemo and was clearly suffering. It was just as clear, though, that he appreciated everyone around him that night. I took his hand, felt its grip, got close to him, and said, "Be strong, Mike, stay strong. It's gonna be okay, man."

I didn't tell him he was going to beat it. Nobody was going to beat that. As we drove back across Alligator Alley in the dark of midnight, I thought of Dylan Thomas and that Do Not Go Gentle poem about rage to the bitter end. I hoped Mike wouldn't follow that piece of advice and I wished that I would have said one more thing to him: "Smile in its face one time for me. Just one time."

Mike definitely knew how to smile. A Louisiana native, he was a regular at Mardis Gras. At parties he would cook the best gumbo you ever had. His last day on this earth was Fat Tuesday. I've heard there will be a party to celebrate Mike this weekend in true Hoyem fashion.

Cheers, Mike, you're going to be missed.


Blogger Florida Pulp said...

Just got a call from one of Mike's closest friends, Sentinel reporter Peter Franceschina, who is also a News-Press alum.

Peter said that Mike was doing some of the best work of his career when he was diagnosed with cancer, specifically about rampant land deed scams in Southwest Florida. On top of that, he'd been winning state journalism awards at a strong clip, including a third-place finish in the Sunshine State Awards last year for criminal law reporting, a second place in the Florida Press Club awards in 2004 for crime writing, and a first place FPC award in the same category in 2003.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Andi Atwater said...

Bob,your post describing Mike Hoyem was excellent.

Mike was my friend in the eight years I worked at The News-Press, and he was the consummate reporter. He was a fine editor, too, but preferred to keep his blade sharpened on the hides of the officials for whom he held accountable their deeds and misdeeds.

In the end, Mike, who at first glance was misleadingly soft-spoken, led his life his way and I doubt he had many regrets. He lived as hard as he worked. He's famous for generating tales of his adventures -- ask almost anyone who knew him and he or she could probably tell you a Mike Story that will have you in stitches.

But his heart was golden, and so was his friendship. I will miss him very much.


2:25 PM  
Blogger Kendall Anderson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Kendall Anderson said...

Mike Hoyem would snicker about the praise I'm about to heap on him.

Mike was my first editor out of college. His curmudgeonly shell made me nervous. As an ambitious and probably self-important 23-year-old female journalist, Mike wasn't having any of my crap. He didn't mind snapping at me for making little mistakes (or for taking a personal call at work).

I wasn't excited at first to have Mike as my editor because he was so real. There was no bullshit or niceties being spewed (as is the case with most people.) I now see how Mike cared enough to teach me what many others, in the deadline-driven madness of journalism, forgot to or didn't care to.

He was among the strongest editors I've ever had and by far one of the best journalists I've known. It was Mike, through guidance and lots of patience, who helped me write the best clips I'd had to date (about some shenanigans at Cape Coral City Hall and regarding a proposed boot camp.) Those clips, which I still look at fondly after half a decade or so, helped me get a job at The Dallas Morning News where I worked for nearly a decade.

I worked with excellent reporters and editors at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Morning News. It's a good paper. Mike could have gone up against any one of them, however. Including every one of the incredible Pulitzer Prize-winners I've been fortunate enough to work with. The void he leaves in Lee County is massive I am sure.

As a journalist, Mike was a treasure to me and, for decades, to the readers he served. As a person, he was a treasure for anyone.

Over the years he and I exchanged cards, photos (always of him in his latest Mardi Gras shirt) and phone calls. I never did get back to visit him like I said I would.
I regret that the last time I spoke with Mike was in September 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, when I called him from here in Dallas. He said his family was okay and gave me a one-minute summary of his life, complete with several wisecracks.

I didn't learn he had contracted and died of lung cancer until yesterday, when I called the newsroom to give Mike a hard time over the Dallas Mavericks shutting down the Heat's Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA finals. From the second the newsroom guy told me "I am sorry - he is no longer with us," I have been unable to stop thinking about Mike.

Mike would be telling me to knock off this gushy writing and get on with my day. So I'll print off the fine obituary on Mike in the news press, add it to my collection of Mike Mardi Gras photos and pack it alongside the clips of mine he edited that will probably never be read by anyone else until I die one day. And of course the story of those clips and working with Mike will be lost on the reader. So I write here.

-Kendall Anderson

9:43 PM  

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