Let me start by saying what a great guy and supportive colleague Heaster was for most of my 16 years at the newspaper. I was pals with former Star reporter and columnist Jennifer Mann and was a regular visitor to Heaster and Mann’s little corner of the newsroom on the business desk.
Jennifer and I would chat about any number of things in the news or concerning the Star and Jerry offered himself up as an active participant in those discussions more often than not.
Many of those corner talks revolved around me grousing about significant story and news details that my editor in the FYI section removed from my column in the interest of playing it safe and/or PC. So as to not to draw fire from readers, other Star editors or pretty much anyone for that matter.
Jerry was well aware of the theory of shit running downhill at the newspaper and that editor’s tended to be overly conservative – with rare exception – about taking on sacred subjects like advertiser Nebraska Furniture Mart. Or like the time I wrote about the tell-all book Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil‘s far younger girlfriend published after he dumped her.
Jerry would listen with great interest to my weekly laments, shake his head in wonderment and say something like, “I would just put a bullet through my brain if I had to put up with the kind of stuff you do.”
Heaster had a nose for news, real news.
My first encounter with “Uncle Fearless” – Jerry’s self-inflicted nickname – was far less auspicious.
Heaster’s obit says he joined the Star in 1979 as business editor and columnist. That’s back around the time I was a stock and commodities broker at the Kansas City Board of Trade.
I recall reading many of Jerry’s columns and thinking he was one of the few local business writers who actually got it – understood the way things work. Many Star business reporters visited the company I worked for at the time, interviewing our securities analysts and brokers who loved nothing more than to feed them a line of crap, then watch them take the bait and run with it.
What’s more, Jerry’s column at the time was garnished with – not a photo of himself – but a black on white line drawing of him. I didn’t know how old Jerry was at the time and I’d not seen or met him, but he looked to be a relatively young, hip dude.
One day I was so overcome with admiration for one of his columns I got my nerve up to call him at the Star and compliment him. Big mistake.
Having promoted concerts for several years and taken fans backstage, I now realize that these sorts of encounters are fraught with peril and awkwardness. Such was the case with my call to Heaster, who seemed to find my compliments too awkward to endure. The call ended on a disillusioned note for me – jilted by my hero.
When I finally did meet and get to know Heaster in 1992 after I joined the Star, I found out many things about him. The first being that he was not some good-looking, super cool, rock star kinda guy. The dude I’d originally thought he was. Nor was he the standoffish, snobby guy I’d pegged him for after that call years earlier.
Perhaps he’d mellowed.
I can tell you (once again), that after years of attending encounter group sessions with other reporters at the Star, their most common shared trait was that they were bookish and shy – not good in dealing with people – but that journalism had shown them a way out of their shells, a means to interact with others that they otherwise would not have had.
There are plenty of shy, quiet reporters at the Star. That is until they corner somebody for a comment.
Now a bit of classic Jerry Heaster wisdom:
One of the things that galled Jerry to no end was the use of the word “factoid.”
He didn’t like the word one single bit and felt its common usage to represent an important nugget of information was entirely bogus. I never gave it much thought other than Jerry pointing it out from time to time and went about my way misusing the word.
Turns out Jerry was right.
I looked it up today and here’s what I found it to be: “an insignificant or trivial fact. Something fictitious or unsubstantiated that is presented as fact, devised especially to gain publicity and accepted because of constant repetition.”
Thanks, Jerry. I stand corrected.