How do you cover a story that hits too close to home?
Paul Gates was a journalistic giant. For more than thirty years, his investigations shined a light on the dark side of politics, business, and law enforcement, and sent state officials, and con-men to jail.
He was a master of the ambush interview. He knew where the powerful and shady liked to hide, and he would show up, camera in tow, to demand answers. Paul was passionate about finding the truth and speaking it to the powerful. He was the only journalist I ever worked with who could badger a bully caught with his hand in the cookie jar and never once forget the manners him momma taught him.
He was a reporter’s reporter. Tireless on the hunt for justice for the little guy. And photogs knew if they worked with Paul they would have a story to tell at the end of the day.
But as serious as he took his job as a reporter and anchor, he could still play the befuddled sidekick to the world-famous chef who joined him to cook on the set twice a week.
That is what endeared him to so many in the Capitol Region.
Around the newsroom, we were just as likely to see Paul wrapped in a feather boa talking to his many pet rocks as poring over a three-inch stack of documents from the Used Car Commission. And the one-liners he slipped into his scripts just for the editors are the stuff of legend.
Paul was a one-man blooper reel and one hell of a serious journalist. That’s what endeared him to everyone in the station.
That’s why it was such a shock when he announced his retirement four years ago. Doctors had diagnosed Paul with Alzheimer’s. He left us to be with his family and fight this insidious disease.
I was with Paul on his last investigative interview. It was clear to me something was not right. He had trouble keeping some of the facts straight and staying on subject. It was hard to watch a champion go out that way.
This week, we got to visit with Paul and his family. The news is not good. Alzheimer’s has ravaged the giant we all knew. He didn’t remember any of the crew. He had to ask what the camera were, and after a few minutes, it was clear he did not know what he was saying while he was saying it.
But every once in a while, just for a second, the haze would clear, and a flash of the old Paul would shine through. We could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. It gave us hope, and crushed our spirits.
It’s hard to realize your heroes are human. They bleed. They cry. They grow old. And they forget their glory. How’s Paul is one of the hardest stories I’ve ever had to tell.
Paul and his family sure could use you good thoughts and your prayers. As well as anyone else fighting his same fight.