The Mentors Who Changed My Life

mentor image

Our new baby pug is Casey. Named after Ron Casey, my mentor and editor at The Birmingham News, back when it was a newspaper.

Casey is fearless. At 12 weeks, he’ll jump off our couch. He’ll engage dogs much bigger than him at puppy kindergarten at Roverchase. He’s amazing.

Ron died in early 2000 after speaking to a class at Samford University. Ron spoke to the class, returned to his van, suffered a heart attack, and died.

I was in the editorial page office at The News when editor Jim Jacobson said Ron had been taken to Brookwood Medical Center. I drove there, through tears, and arrived before his family or anybody else. A chaplain took me into one of the small rooms designed for telling folks their loved ones had died. This chaplain told me Ron hadn’t survived.

I was devastated.

Ron wasn’t just my mentor; he was also a gift for Alabama. Ron wrote about the issues that mattered. He so believed in Alabama that he never left. That says so much. Ron could have worked anywhere. He stayed in Alabama.
He stayed.

Ron directed our series on tax reform that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991. I hated working on that series. I hated writing about taxes. But I did. Because Ron inspired me. I worked weekends with no overtime pay to write about taxes in Alabama because Ron inspired me. He was amazing.

Whenever Ron edited one of my editorials, he always said that if he screwed it up, I could change it back. I never did, because Ron never touched one of my editorials that he didn’t improve. He was a fabulous editor.

One of our other pugs is named Peerey. Peerey is a black pug named after another mentor, Richard Peerey, who took me on 12 trips to Cuba. Peerey is laid back, and a loner. But Peerey—and his namesake—are wonderful. We stopped going to Cuba because the real Richard Peerey has Parkinson’s disease now. He’s an outstanding man, fighting through this devastating disease and succeeding. I’m in awe.

Richard lives, and works, through his Parkinson’s. He maintains his humor and life. With all his problems, Richard moves forward. I love him.

Ron Casey and Richard Peerey are men who endure. Ron died beside his van on the Samford University campus after speaking to a journalism class. Richard has suffered torture during his Parkinson’s episodes that no human should have to endure.

My pugs, Casey and Peerey, are named after them to honor them.

Richard made more than 20 visits to Cuba, carrying vital supplies prohibited by the illogical economic embargo we’ve had with that island nation for more than 50 years. He’s taken everything from aspirin to morphine. Yeah, I jumped on him about the morphine. That could have put Richard in a Cuban prison for decades. But it didn’t. Because he didn’t get caught.  Richard was lucky.

But the last trip we took to Cuba in 2013 wore him out. His Parkinson’s had taken hold. He looked at me and said, “No more.” On that last trip, Richard was stuck at customs for hours, explaining why he had costume jewelry in his luggage. It was a weird situation. Then we were literally towed in a car by a rope for 80 miles to Pinar del Rio. Yes, towed. At night. With no lights. That was enough for Richard.

Ron, meanwhile, advocated for Alabama’s poor and discarded. He did it until he died. Casey the pug only knows love, like Casey the person. Casey the person would show me the door. That’s right. He’d say to me, “There’s the door!” I looked at the door, and he’d laugh. Oh, that Casey laugh. Ron Casey showed me the door. I so miss him.

I know that Ron’s sister loves that we’ve named our new pug after Ron. She’s said that. Casey’s an amazing pug. His mother is a movie star. She is the main pug in the movie The Campaign, with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. She has a Screen Actors Guild card. Yes, she does. Casey’s dad is a pug from Germany known as Capo. This pup is outstanding.

Ron Casey loved Alabama. He wrote about issues that impacted Alabama. Tax reform. Constitutional reform. Education reform. All sorts of reform. I miss Ron every day. He was wonderful. He was taken from us much too soon. Much too soon. Only the good die young. Ron was young. Too young. And he was good. He’s dead now. And I weep. He would be just 64 years old today.

Peerey and Casey remind me every day where I’ve been. Where I’m going. Where I need to be. Where I’m not. 


5 Responses to “The Mentors Who Changed My Life”

  1. Ed Benefield says:

    A nice tribute to these fine mentors, Joey. I’ve been fortunate, too.

  2. Stan Middlebrooks says:

    Excellent article. Breaks my heart to think of the journalism we had and lost.

    Need a second article from you about your earliest mentors.

  3. Robert Casey Sr says:

    Thank you for the memories. Ron was my “baby brother” and I miss him more than I can tell.

  4. Sue Cronkite says:

    This is a wonderful column, full of love. Ron Casey was a remarkable person. Kudos to you, Joey, for making his reality continue. Sixty-four is too young to go.

  5. Buddy Casey says:

    Thanks Joey,
    This is very much appreciated by all of us who loved and still miss him.

Leave a Reply