NORMAN — We were just about to lock the front door and head east to print our weekly newspaper late one Tuesday morning. A farm couple pulled up to our Noble office and proceeded to come in. They had on their Sunday best, albeit they had seen better Sundays. Her hair was high and tight, the work of a professional, no doubt.
Saturday was their 50th wedding anniversary and they wanted friends and neighbors to know about the party. The newspaper story and photo of them was their only invitation. Without it, they would be celebrating alone.
We were already past deadline. My nerves were shot. Just as I began to deliver my “why didn’t you bring your own photo and write-up and you’re too late for this week speech,” my business partner emerged from our back shop with his camera, posed the couple on our couch and began shooting their official anniversary portrait.
“Go get your notebook and start writing. Don’t stand there like a cod fish,” Jerry Laizure told me. “I’ll take the photo like we always do and you can write their story like you always do.”
Indeed, that couple’s milestone was far more important than meeting any press deadline that day. That’s unselfish Jerry. Always thinking of others. Always keeping me grounded in a way only Jerry could do.
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The talented, quirky, techno-savvy Laizure died this past week at age 59. We had been coworkers, business partners and fellow journalists in some capacity at four newspapers over a 38-year friendship.
His health had been deteriorating in recent years. Perhaps you had seen him at sporting events, wildfires, press conferences, ice storms, tornadoes, school parties and civic club meetings. The long, gray hair and beard, Hawaiian shirts, Santa hat and candy cane on his truck gave him standing. His walk had slowed in the last year, but his mind was still sharp.
He knew the city as well as any gumshoe reporter and had a gift of arriving at fires before the firefighters or police.
“Doesn’t that bother you that whenever there’s a fire, he’s here first?” one firefighter told me.
“It doesn’t bother me, but it ought to bother you,” I told him. “You’re the one with lights and sirens.”
Jerry routinely shared his photos with others. Sadly, much of his work has been stolen from him over the years. His sports photos hang in most restaurants in Oklahoma.
He could fix your car, computer or camera, mostly by walking you through the problem. Operator error, he would say. “Don’t blame the machine. It’s a poor worker who blames his tools.”
He shared his computer knowledge and common sense, bailing many an editor out of a late-night jam. He could find free wireless access just about anywhere in the country. Road trips for sporting events were non-stop adventures. In later years, he would drive with his two sons, who are also top-notch photojournalists.
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He was crusty with strangers but quickly warmed to anyone he judged genuine. Even without his long lens, Jerry could spot phonies. He had his own time table and didn’t tolerate laziness or whiners. Things got done — eventually. Kids and grandkids, his own or those of others, held a special place in his heart.
He married early, both he and Peggy still teenagers.
“We’re just staying together because our family said it would never last,” he often told me.
We all knew better. He was a hopeless romantic, secretly devoted to Peggy for more than 40 years.
When Peggy drove his truck up to the newspaper Tuesday morning, for a moment I thought maybe the last 12 hours had been a bad dream and he would walk in behind her. It’s been a tough week for her, the three children, seven grandchildren, friends and our coworkers.
It’s hard to come to grips with a loved one’s death until we recognize our own humanity. Until then, I’ll share a late friend’s advice: “Close the door, pull the curtains and have a good cry,” he said. “Then love them enough to let them go.”