The story that started my career


Lynn and Warren Thompson. 1995.
Lynn and Warren Thompson. 1995.

For a long time, especially in the early 2000s, I was known as “The Rocker Guy.”

I was the journalist who wrote the John Rocker Story. Who, depending on your perspective, either “screwed” John Rocker or “exposed” John Rocker. People have said that story “made” me as a journalist; that, ever since the final Sports Illustrated of 1999, my life has changed.

Eh … not really.

Truth be told, the story that “made” me came out in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. The date was June 18, 1995. At the time I was a general assignment features writer, taking on topics like the city’s best deli and where to catch great July 4 fireworks. One day my editor, a nice man named Patrick Connolly, said he heard about a woman who was dying of cancer. Her husband, Patrick said, had taken a vow to continue working her garden after she passed—even though he knew nothing of flowers. “You wanna do something on it?” Patrick asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Sounds interesting.”

Life. Changed.

I was 23. I knew nothing of death and suffering and pain and anguish. I certainly knew nothing of courage, beyond a courageous fourth-quarter rally. Then I was introduced to Warren and Lynn Thompson. They were husband and wife for 23 years; warm, embracing people with three children and a beautiful house. Lynn had first been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1990, overcame it, then—more recently—began suffering from ceaseless headaches. A CAT scan showed that her cancer had metastasized. It was everywhere. As I wrote (poorly) at the time: “Her call to the doctor was like an 0-10 pitcher’s call to the manager’s office. She knew what was coming.”

Lynn Thompson was dying.

So here I was, nervous, uncomfortable, out of my sports-and-funny-punch-lines element. I sat with Lynn outside her garden, and listened as she spoke of the inevitability of death; the sadness of knowing she won’t be there for her children; the love of her garden. I listened and admired, and saw strength in a way I’d never before known it to be. When I finally sat down at my computer, the story wrote itself. It was a tragedy, sure. But, really, it was a love story. A beautiful love story.

All these years later, I’ve never received such positive feedback for a piece. It was very important for me, in that it showed the true power of journalism. This business isn’t just about exposing wrongdoing, or making fun of celebrities, or breaking down Dolphins-Chiefs. No, there’s a real opportunity to make good; to make someone’s day; to show compassion via words.

It doesn’t happen often. But, when it does, it’s golden.

The reason I’m blogging about Lynn’s Garden is because, yesterday evening, while digging through my attic, I found the story. I’d pasted it into a photo album long ago, then misplaced the pages. It’s posted below. I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve ever written—it’s not.

It remains, however, the most meaningful.

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