This afternoon in Baton Rouge, the family and many friends and colleagues of Jerry Ceppos are gathering to remember this good man and celebrate his life. Jerry died suddenly several months ago. My thoughts have been with Karen Ceppos and their children. His loss is profound for so many, including me.
Jerry was a consummate journalist and educator. He expertly guided a newsroom where I once worked, the San Jose Mercury News in Silicon Valley, at a time of explosive growth — a time that seems like fantasy today. At the Mercury News, Jerry was managing editor, then executive editor, then vice president of news for the parent company, Knight Ridder. After the company was sold, he became dean of journalism programs at the University of Nevada at Reno and then dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University.
He hired me in 1994. I departed in 2005, after a decade in the best job I’ll ever have. After we both left the journalism business, I did guest lectures at Reno and LSU, and, for a semester, was a part-time visiting professor at LSU.
My professional debt to Jerry is incalculable. When I arrived in San Jose, I’d had an interesting but hardly exceptional decade-plus in journalism as a reporter and occasional commentator. When I became a full-time technology and business columnist, part of a great team that Jerry and his colleagues assembled, my work became far more fun, satisfying, and visible. I always told people that I had one of the two or three best jobs in journalism. I had wonderful colleagues, and we put out a news product that mattered.
Professional ties are one thing. What matter more, in the end, are the personal ones.
On the day I visited the Mercury News prior to taking the job, Jerry interviewed me near the end of a long day, the second-to-final conversation in what was known as the “dance card” of interviews with many different people. We had an hour. About 10 minutes into it, the conversation turned to wine. Jerry loved good wine. I’d written about wine for several other publications. Someone told Jerry that we had the grape in common. You can imagine how the rest of the hour went: quickly and enjoyably.
That wasn’t only the beginning of what became a happy and productive professional connection. More important, it was the start of a great friendship.
Over the years, we’ve had countless conversations ranging from trivial to deep. We and family and friends have gotten together for countless meals, and offered toasts over countless glasses ranging from experimental plonk to the complex perfection of a truly great wine.
We talked constantly about journalism — its value, its failures, its potential. We shared many misgivings. But we always, always had faith that it could be better and serve, truly serve, the people of the communities where having useful, accurate information still mattered.
I think Jerry knew this, but I don’t think I ever said in so many words how enormously grateful I was to him for what he’d done for me, but even more for our friendship. So when I heard about his death, I wished I could turn the clock back to say it directly.
Jerry was one of the people in my life to whom I owe almost more than I can express. They are generous people who believed in me, often at times when I did not believe in myself. Whatever good I’ve done stems, in a powerful fashion, from their help along the way.
I haven’t thanked them all the way I wish I’d thanked Jerry. Even if they already know, I need to tell them. Some of them are gone, and time does run out.