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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3 thoughts on “The story that started my career”

  1. That’s a really cool story you got assigned. I wanted to say thank you for always answering my journalism questions on twitter (@charliehatch_). My prof, Justice B. Hill, thought you would be a great writer for me to have as a role model. Just wondering if that could be possible.

  2. I can hardly see the keyboard for the tears; tears of love, sadness, joy, gratitude. Thanks for remembering and honoring Lynn and me. The flowers in her garden suffered under my care, but the kids turned out fabulous. Lynn would be so proud. Warren

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