This column originally was published in the April 2014 edition of The Columnist, the members’ newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
By Eric Heyl
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
He missed writing his column.
In one of the last email exchanges I had with Joel Brinkley, he confided that he was anxious to resume it. Joel put the column on hold in December, when he took a new job as tactical adviser for the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction in Washington, D.C.
I advised patience. Reminding him that his office had only asked him to take a writing hiatus for several months, I told him he’d be back penning the international affairs column in no time.
Those words would come back to haunt me.
When word came on March 13 that Joel had died suddenly two days earlier, the news hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. As most of you are aware, he left us far too soon at 61, of complications from acute, undiagnosed leukemia.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read most of the obituaries and tributes to Joel I could find online. One of the best, I thought, came from NSNC member Telly Halkias. If you have yet to read it, the link can be found here, “R.I.P., Joel Brinkley.” Telly mentions meeting Joel at last year’s conference in Hartford, Conn., which is where the NSNC began discussing possible locations for the 2014 conference. Washington, D.C., seemed like a natural choice — and not just because the nation’s capital has an obvious historical allure and is relatively easy to get to for many of our members.
D.C. was selected largely because Joel, an NSNC board member, knew the city like the back of his hand. He grew up in D.C., held various reporting and editing positions there during his nearly quarter-century with The New York Times, and was eyeing a professional return there. It didn’t matter that Joel was still living and teaching in California when we officially chose Washington as the conference site. He played an integral role in the planning process that began last fall, researching a number of possible venues until recommending the site where we’ll gather June 26-29: The Washington Plaza Hotel, located just blocks from the White House.
Joel also worked diligently along with other board members in lining up quality speakers for the event even as he pursued a new job. His role in the planning diminished somewhat when he took the new position, but I anticipated he would be actively involved again once he got settled in. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Joel’s gone, and sadly there’s nothing that can be done about that.
But we will honor his memory at the conference.
And if the event is as successful as I hope, it will be in large part because of his efforts.