Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Letter to Jim

Dear Jim,

You may not remember me, but my name is James Neveau, and I am a sportswriter for NBC Chicago and The Hockey Writers, among various other outlets.

The reason I'm writing to you today is because, to put it simply, I just wanted to say thank you.

I started following you on Twitter way back in 2010 when I was looking to become better acquainted with the Phoenix Coyotes, and since you were covering the team for the Arizona Republic, I figured that you would be a logical person to start following.

I don't remember how long it was between the time I started following you and when you started following me, but I do remember how cool that moment was for me. Here I was, just an upstart young writer who had been covering the Chicago Blackhawks for a few months, and to have a real professional writer acknowledge me in that way was a huge boost to my confidence, and if that had been the only thing you had ever done for me, I would have been better off for the experience.

In reality, that was just the beginning.

We interacted every so often on Twitter, with you shooting me a quick tweet about a piece I had written, or me tweeting you a snarky remark about a post that you had made, but it was always good to hear from you, and it was a great learning experience from me in the proper way to handle interactions with readers, and I still carry those lessons with me today.

Even bigger than that lesson though was the first time that I actually met you face-to-face. It was at the NHL Draft in Minnesota in 2011, and I nervously approached you outside of the media workroom at the hotel before you were going in to meet with the Professional Hockey Writers Association. I'm not sure if you recognized me or not, but when I introduced myself, you could not have been more courteous, and you promised that you would talk to me on the media bus on the way to the arena for that night's first round.

I walked away from the media room fully thinking that you would get involved in a conversation with the other heavyweight writers (in terms of the titles that they held, although some certainly had their fair share of bodily girth as well) and forget about me, but when you got on the bus, you sat in the seat next to me, and we talked all the way to the arena about various things. We talked about my family that lived in Arizona, and about hiking Piestawa Peak and various other mountains in the Valley, and it was a really fun experience.

More so than the actual content of the conversation though, I was struck by how friendly you were, and how eager you were to talk to the new guy despite having all of your other friends in the business around you on that trip to the arena. It meant a lot to me, and it is a story that I am always ready to pull from the holster if someone diminishes the validity of a relationship made via social media.

Over the next few years, we still talked off and on via Twitter, and occasionally over email as well. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to get you a paying gig at The Hockey Writers after you retired from the Republic, but hopefully that's just water under the bridge now.

When I heard that you had passed away on Sunday, my first thought wasn't that conversation on the bus in Minnesota. It wasn't the interactions we had shared on Twitter. It wasn't even that you were one of the best beat reporters I have ever had the privilege of being able to read. My first thought was that I hadn't talked to you in too damn long, and a feeling of regret immediately lit my brain on fire.

After feeling guilty for a little while, my emotions began to change. Rather than wishing I had sent you one more tweet or email, or in a perfect world, getting to shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say "thank you", I  instead was comforted with the knowledge of one unassailable fact: you would have told me to buck up and look on the bright side.

So that, Jim, is what I am going to do. I am going to embrace spending time in nature, as you did on all of your hikes. I will keep a range of diverse pursuits to keep my mind from growing too stale from thinking about nothing but hockey. I will constantly be on the lookout for people who could use a helping hand, a kind word, or just an ear willing to listen to whatever they want to tell me.

Most of all, Mr. Gintonio, I will remember that being a writer is an incredible privilege, and one that I will never take for granted. I will nourish my writer's spirit as often as I can, and I will try to flex my creative muscles whenever possible.

I may be able to become as good of a writer as you were, but if I can become just half of the incredible human being that you were, I would consider my life to be a successful one.

May you rest in peace Jim, and may your family be comforted by the multitudes of people whose lives you touched with your generosity and kindness.


James Neveau

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