Tuesday, December 04, 2007


This one's gonna be tough to write. Maybe the toughest one ever.

See, it's normally my job to find life's little inanities -- you know, the unavoidable crummy bits to the daily grind that get under our skin -- and skewer them. I like to poke fun at myself and my problems, and maybe even you and your problems.
But what happens when something comes along that you CAN'T poke fun at? What happens when life throws such a curveball that you can't make it all better in the confines of a newspaper page? It's where my skills as a writer stop, and it's where I find myself this week.

This week, we unexpectedly lost one of our own -- Marla Angelo, one of our classified telesales reps here at the paper, passed away at the criminally young age of 54. And there's nothing I can do or write to make it cheery or distract me from reality. There's no right thing to say. It just hurts. It's unfair, and it sucks.

I've read so many eulogies in our papers over the years that you'd think I could just blurp out the appropriate sappy prose. But what happens when you simply want to pay tribute to someone who lived their life on the quiet side -- never hurting a fly, never standing out in a crowd, but always there for you no matter what?

For 26 years, Marla worked here at the paper, and I've had the pleasure of sitting beside her for the last 12. If you've ever held a garage sale or sold your car through the classifieds, there's a good chance you've talked to her. She's been a rock to our advertising department, and the fact that her corner desk now sits empty makes me numb.

It's no wonder that the photo used in her obituary was taken right here with her trusty telephone headset in place. The woman had a work ethic that I had never been exposed to, nor will I likely see again. She came in every morning and buried herself in her job, coming up for air only for lunch and quitting time -- and many a night, it would take the exasperated prodding of a manager to get her to put work down and go home.

Frankly, her devotion to her job drove some of us batty on a regular basis. Even the most basic of tasks would take Marla forever to get done. But it wasn't an issue of poor time management; it was her constant and unwavering drive for perfection. If you were a client of Marla's, you could expect a barrage of questions, faxes, and phone calls until your ad was absolutely perfect. And when her devoted clients would call in while she was out of the office, the usual response was "let me have her voicemail." They didn't want OUR help; nothing but the original would suffice.

The only time Marla would ever get distracted at work was if one of us had a problem -- in which case she'd tell us about an even greater problem she once faced. If you had a headache, she'd tell you about her near-stroke. If the roads were bad coming in to work, they were nearly impassible in her native East Moline. Sometimes her one-upsmanship would leave you bristled, but for Marla, it was more innocent commiseration. It was her way of saying, "Don't worry, I've been down that road, too. I know how you feel." And if something were truly wrong, you could set your watch by her phone call to your house that night to check up on you.

More than anything, the woman never uttered a bad word about anyone as long as I knew her. Right after I started at the paper, the brakes on my car went out. After catching me complaining about the ungodly price estimate I'd been given, Marla insisted that I bring the car by her house for her team of mechanics (her husband and sons) to look at. I'll never forget walking into her living room and seeing her tiny frame there, glasses on, surrounded by a pile of work she'd brought home from the office. Other than this weekly column, I've never taken a lick of work home in 12 years. Not only did her family fix my brakes, she insisted on feeding me home-cooked meals each time I was over.

Recently on a golf outing, a co-worker returned to the parking lot to find a flat tire. Not only did Marla wait with her for the tow truck, she followed her for miles to an out-of-the-way garage and kept her company until the tire was fixed. She probably never thought twice about it. She was always there for us.

And at her visitation, we got to see photos of a different Marla -- rock climbing, inner tubing, sled racing. It was good to be reminded of her full life outside of work, and her loving kids and grandkids are testament enough to that.

As we try to make sense of it all, I've been talking to so many co-workers this week. And they ALL say the same thing: She was SUCH a nice lady. And when you stop to think about it, could there possibly be any better legacy than that? She was a nice lady, a colleague, and my friend -- and I'm going to miss her like crazy. Rest in peace, Marla.

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