It's been a rough week.
As most of you know, early Tuesday we lost one of our own Tamaqua bureau chief Joe Plasko.
For the few who did not know Joe, he was a terrific person. He was smart, hardworking, funny and kind.
He was a walking treasure trove of information. Ask him a question about music, and he could answer it easily. Ask him something about sports no problem. If it were about local sports, he would not only give you the answer, but possibly some statistics to back it up.
Joe liked to talk; almost as much as me. It was a rare day the phone didn't ring in the newsroom around 1:30. Deadline was over, and Joe was usually checking in with editor Bob Urban about a breaking story, or chatting with Ron Gower about an upcoming concert he would be covering at Penn's Peak, or with sports editor Emmett McCall about a story he may have been working on about the upcoming track season.
If any of the rest of us would pick up the phone, we could always expect to chat with Joe for a few minutes. He was always interested in what was going on with you, and he eagerly shared information about what he was working on.
If he didn't call, it wouldn't be long before the elevator doors would slide open, and out would amble Joe. His visits often were more of an administrative nature, or a trip to the MIS department, but he always made a point of stopping by each of our work stations to say hello, even if it was just for a moment or two.
I've been thinking a lot about Joe this week, and the different ways our lives connected.
I am terrible with directions and after getting lost on numerous occasions heading to my son's football games, I learned that Joe gave the best directions. Even though my son graduated from high school in 2001, until recently I still had an email from Joe, explaining the best way to get to Shamokin High School's football stadium.
When my husband and I directed our daughter's senior play at Marian High School, Joe took the photos for a story in the TIMES NEWS and a few days later, he came back to watch the play. I still have the photo he sent me afterward in my inbox. Another email he sent includes photos he took when she graduated a couple months later.
Last year, when I won my first, first-place Keystone Award, I shared a table with Joe and his bride Donna. He had also won a first-place Keystone, one of many I'm sure. We had a great time that night, laughing and joking. Joe could talk about anything, but I think I was most impressed with his extensive musical background.
A year ago on Facebook, he asked people to comment on their first concert. I told him I remembered the event was at Princeton University. I could picture my surroundings, what I was wearing, and where I was standing, but could not remember who the band was. After asking me a few questions, he deduced it was The Chambers Brothers, and he was right.
We chatted about some of the other concerts we went to back then. For me, it was Seals and Crofts, Procul Harum and John Sebastian. For Joe, it was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, America, Chicago, and Fleetwood Mac.
I still have those emails and reading them makes it even harder to admit he is gone.
For much of the week, I felt like I had a weight on my chest. I was numb, but had not shed a single tear.
On Thursday afternoon, as I began writing this column, my phone rang. It was someone looking for an address to send a letter to the editor. He wanted to write about Joe.
"He was a wonderful writer," said the caller. "I'm very sorry for your loss."
At that moment, I felt the full impact of that loss. It's a great loss indeed.
I thanked him, my voice breaking, and that's when the tears finally started to fall.