It's easy, perhaps natural, to write about the dead in dulcet, muffled tones — as if mere words could provide a cortege that will escort a loved one through time.
I'm not going to do that with Rob Dean.
His life was too expansive, too human, for that. He wasn't some journalistic John Wayne, bustin' through the door to take on all comers, but rather a man who saw himself as a neighbor and friend who had this huge curiosity about you, and an even bigger desire to tell your story. It was almost as if he thought he could create a 25th hour in every day, because he always seemed to have time — or an ability to make time — to talk and ask questions.
Everyone in New Mexico journalism, but particularly at 202 East Marcy St., would kill to have a few minutes back with him today. Make that every day. As many readers of this publication probably now know, Dean left this world a week ago. It's a shocking departure that serves as a grim reminder that every moment is as fleeting as it is precious.
Nobody who works at The New Mexican has walked 40 feet this week in any direction without engaging in a conversation about the fellow who edited this newspaper from 1992 to 2013. Rob, the mensch. Rob, the boss. Rob, the visionary. I could go on.
He could be any and all of those things (and about five or six dozen more) because he was a human bear hug. I'm not sure that method works for every journalist, and certainly not every editor, but it was Dean's calling card. And his gift.
I'd known of him since he arrived in New Mexico in the early '90s, but we only got to be friends in maybe the past 15 years when I moved into newspaper management at the Albuquerque Tribune, then the city's afternoon daily.
I was first Rob Deaned when he invited me to a lunch he was hosting for a New Mexican staffer, a friend of mine, who'd hit a rough patch. There must have been at least a dozen people or more in the room, writers and editors and the like. Dean stood at the front door of a downtown restaurant, treating every guest as if he or she were Elvis, just back from a long hiatus.
How are ya? What are you working on? Helluva package the other day! Thanks for coming! Let's get together soon!
I'm not sure I had an answer for anything he asked, having been poleaxed by the concept of an editor (and a company) doing such a nice thing for an employee. But that was Dean. It wasn't about being nice. It was about connecting with people.
Years later, after he had retired from The New Mexican and joined investigative journalism outlet Searchlight New Mexico, I got to see the Luncheon Dean wasn't some contrived, once-in-a-lifetime, comet-streaking-across-the-sky experience. It was just … Tuesday. Searchlight has an office within The New Mexican's building on Marcy Street, and on most mornings, there was Rob in full — at the water fountain, on the way to coffee, coming out of a meeting.
Hey! Great story today! You doing OK? How's your son doing in the Air Force? I've got an idea. Can we get together soon?
It was the other stuff, too. My mother died in May, a loss so gutting and debilitating I wasn't sure I could shuffle up the stairs to the office when I returned to work. On my first day back after her funeral, the top card on the pile was from Rob, filled with kind thoughts that provided me with the will to get through the shift without breaking down. There were no exclamation points. Just genuine concern and empathy.
I've never met a guy who lived so easily in his own humanity.
At an age when many say they're done learning and growing, Rob took his unique gifts and manufactured a new twist on a career. As Searchlight's executive director, he became a fundraiser in addition to journalist. Trust me: Raising money for a nonprofit is an excruciating job, usually thankless. I've done it, and wasn't nearly as successful in eight years as Dean was in eight days. He could transfix a would-be donor with a friendly stare, intently explain mission, method and benefit, and walk away with financial commitments that would make you shake your head.
You don't do that if you don't have a molten core of passion, and Dean believed in Searchlight, just as he'd believed in The New Mexican for 21 years — a mark of endurance and excellence that in today's difficult newspaper world seems almost absurd.
Since last Sunday's terrible news, I've spent the better part of a week thinking about how to write this. Getting started was difficult; concluding almost impossible. You see, there's no real way to corral any life, let alone Rob Dean's, in 850 words. He was bigger than that. Better, too.
But an ending — for Dean, for all of us — is demanded. So here goes.
Rob! You did a helluva job! Thanks for coming!