A good journalist lost too soon

Longtime friends Laura Wingard, Laura Myers and Jane Ann Morrison in 1987 (From R-J website)

We lost another good journalist this week. The Review-Journal’s political reporter, Laura Myers, 53, died Friday of colon cancer, which she had been battling for more than two years.

I hired Laura in 2010 to cover the senatorial campaign on the recommendations of two of her friends and former co-workers — Jane Ann Morrison and Laura Wingard. (Morrison wrote both a news obituary and a column for today’s paper. Both pieces tell a comprehensive story about the heart and soul of a dedicated journalist and humanitarian.)

I think I first understood what a talented reporter Laura was when I read her profile of Sharron Angle, then a long-shot but the eventual nominee of the Republican Party to take on Harry Reid in 2010. It was the first time the people of Nevada got an unvarnished glimpse of this hard-driving, tough-talking, and deeply-devout politician.

You can tell the true mettle of a journalist by what she has written.

The profile was skillfully crafted, using metaphors to paint a word portrait of a many-layered candidate. It was matter of fact, without the judgmental tilting so many liberal journalists resorted to in reporting on Angle as a Bible-thumping, pistol-waving grandma — though Laura conceded later that she was a bit surprised when Angle showed her the pistol she carried in her pickup.

Until I tracked down the story this morning, I had forgotten that it opened with an account of Angle being nearly paralyzed by a tumor on her spine years previously. That was a little unsettling.

Laura wove anecdotes into political insight, such as when she wrote about Angle singing a silly song with her 2½-year-old grandson. The song was from a then-popular cartoon movie “Veggie Pirate.”

Laura wrote:

“We are the pirates who don’t do anything,” the cartoon vegetables sing in nasal tones.
“We just stay home and lie around.
“And if you ask us to do anything.
“We’ll just tell you, we don’t do anything.”

Angle explained that it reminded her of Washington gridlock.

The story was no cream puff though. It noted that four out of 10 voters did not recognize Angle’s name with less than three months until the primary. It quoted one of those ubiquitous experts as saying her chances for the nomination were slim.

The piece ended thusly:

“They are just going at it,” Angle smiles, referring to her top two GOP opponents. They have all but ignored Angle, a tactic they might regret if she overcomes long odds and makes a primary comeback.

The GOP warfare somehow reminds Angle of the book she wrote and self-published called “Prairie Fire.” It centers on the tragic death of a member of her German-speaking immigrant family several generations ago after they moved to South Dakota from Europe following the Civil War.

Those settlers used to live in dugouts, or sod houses, that were essentially buried underground, protecting them from the cold in winter and the heat in summer.

A fire raged across the prairie one day. Most of Angle’s ancestors survived by huddling in the sod house as the blaze overran it. But her great grandmother burned to death while trying to salvage a few pieces of laundry from the clothesline before the fire engulfed the dry grasses.

“The fire got her,” says Angle, whose best hope might be to let the GOP primary flames ravage the exposed competition, leaving her the sole survivor, gathering up enough votes to win.

Frankly, that is a pretty decent metaphor for what happened.

As a political reporter she tried to be as objective as possible — to the point of telling me she refused to cast a ballot in any political race she was covering so her own mind could remain as open as possible.

Journalism and humanity have lost a good one too soon. Over the years cancer has taken and/or crippled too many good people I have known, loved, worked with and admired. Cancer research charities are good ways to remember and pay tribute to those we’ve lost in hopes that in the future good people can stay with us longer.

Sharron Angle with her grandson. (R-J photo)