Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

February 20, 2012

CATHIE SHAFFER: Goodbye, my friend

ASHLAND — I was sitting at my desk yesterday morning when my daughter called and said in a somber voice, “Did you know Mike Reliford died?”

My hand went to my chest; it felt like I’d been punched with a sledge hammer. Into the silence, my daughter explained that she’d just seen it on Facebook and wanted to make sure I knew.

Mike was not only a great writer and editor but a true character in the best sense of the word. He loved his family — both his own and his newspaper one — and he loved his hometown.

Since I became editor of the Greenup County News-Times eight years ago, every Monday afternoon, I would email this column in. One of the two email boxes it went to was Mike’s; I got that punched in the gut feeling again when I went to hit send without including his e-address.

When I first came to The Independent, Mike was the sports editor. He soon moved into managing editor and then editor, looking to be home nights and not at a ballfield or on the sidelines of a basketball game.

For years, his office and mine were separated by a wall, and he got in the habit of hollering for me instead of picking up the phone. Usually he had a question or clarification about something I’d written, but there were times when we didn’t see eye to eye.

I’m proud to say that despite his temperament and the Irish temper that runs in my blood, we always remained friends despite our occasional disagreements.

Mike was from the old-time journalist tradition, when reporters kept bottles of booze in their desk drawers for the bad times and the industry was male-dominated. Like me, he started his career back before computers, email and texting, and I think there were times when he thought the newspaper industry was better than way.

There are some who come into your life and leave without even leaving a footprint. Not so with Mike. Once you met Mike, you didn’t forget him.

He was a man who could write a column and make you giggle or choke up, whichever sentiment he was going for. He also loved to sing and for a time was the king of karaoke.

Mike could make you laugh, which is wonderful trait in a person. You knew if Mike sat down at your table, the conversation would get lively and stay that way.

He was the kind of guy people told stories about and will always tell stories about. And he was the first to tell stories on himself as well as about other people he knew.

The next few days, as the news of his passing spreads, Mike stories are bound to be pulled out of people’s memories and exchanged. One story will spark another, I’m sure, with a mixture of laughter and tears.

I doubt if Mike ever knew the influence he had on all the reporters he’s worked with over the years, but I’m certain they will always remember what they learned from him. He may be gone from us now, but his legacy lives on in those he wrote about, those he mentored and those who had the privilege of working side by side for so many good years.

Rest in peace, Mike; you’ve earned it.

CATHIE SHAFFER can be reached at cathieshaffer@zoominternet.net

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