It's been a tough week. On Sunday afternoon, a friend called to say that Jerry Trently had died. This friend and I worked together for six years at WHP in Harrisburg. For most of that time, Jerry was our news director.
For the past year or so, Jerry put up a strong fight against brain cancer. He had at least one tumor and, as I understand it, the cancer was well advanced by the time any symptoms emerged. Radiation and chemo slowed the disease for a while, but could not stop it. Jerry was 43, married, and the father of a son.
Jerry's funeral was Thursday. I took the day off from work so I could be there. There was no breaking news that day (at least that I know of), which is a good thing because at least half of the staff from WHP was there. Several people from the other stations in the market were also there. So were some of Jerry's co-workers from past years. Every seat in the church was filled, and every eye was filled with tears.
I did not know Jerry well outside of work. But, as a journalist, I was privileged to know and learn from a man of vision and passion, a man who used the video camera to expose the bigger picture. Jerry, I don't think, had any real desire to be a news director. His true love was photojournalism. But, he also loved WHP and, when the station needed him, he was there - in more ways than a lot of people will probably ever know.
Even as news director, though, he never really let go of the camera. He spent many Friday nights shooting high school football. Sometimes, he came across stories that he felt compelled to tell as only he could. If someone else was telling the story, Jerry made it better.
In the months and weeks leading up to the war in Iraq, I was assigned to write a series of stories about the military facilities in the Harrisburg area. So, one day, one of the photographers and I went to the Letterkenny Army Depot. Another day, I took a crew to the Army War College in Carlisle. And, one day, Jerry and I went to the Naval Supply facility in Mechanicsburg.
I was excited about going to LETTERKENNY. They make humvees there. They store ammo. They showed us a Patriot missile battery. In other words, Letterkenny has what could be called good video opportunities. A good story should be easy.
The ARMY WAR COLLEGE? Not great video opportunities, but I think someone else was actually writing that story, so I wasn't too concerned.
As for the NAVAL SUPPLY place, that was my concern. And, man, was I concerned. Basically, what goes on there is that people make sure the troops have what they need. They don't make anything. They use computers to make sure that the stuff that other people make, gets where it needs to go. And, they also have lots of different acronymns - NAVSUP, NAVICP, etc. I thought, great. No video. Confusing acronymns. This is going to suck.
But, for this story, Jerry was my photographer. The first thing we did was meet a couple of pre-arranged interviewees in a conference room on the base. Jerry set up lights. With umbrellas. Once he had everything just so, and had everyone seated where he wanted them, I started asking questions. I think Jerry asked some, too. Then, we went to another area, and took pictures of people working at computers. On our way out, he took pictures of some of the other parts of the base - the fire house, the PX, I think there might have even been a bowling place. And, once we were outside, Jerry took pictures of the gates. The Navy gave us some stock video of ships and dock activities. And, you know what? The story didn't suck. In fact, I remember thinking that it was the best one of all. Thanks, in no small part, to Jerry.
To get a better sense of Jerry's talent, please go HERE. This tribute was played recently at the Mid-Atlantic Emmy awards, when a scholarship in Jerry's name was established.