Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Facing death with dignity, courage and beauty

Sometimes in life you come across a talent and personality so big, that you know you're in the company of someone special. At the Southeast Missourian, Heidi Hall was a talent for the ages. A reporter here in the 1990s, she rose to managing editor 2000 to 2003, before departing to become an editor in Florida and Nashville, then for the past five years, a public affairs officer at Vanderbilt University. For 11 years, even for a while when she was not living here, she wrote a weekly column in the Southeast Missourian that enthralled all who read it with humor, style, honesty and wisdom.

On Friday, friends who follow Heidi online were stunned to read the following post. She had been silent for a while.

"This post may come as a shock to some folks. I have kept many details of my health very private, but the time has come to share more openly.

"In June I discovered that my colorectal/liver cancer has been metastasizing rapidly. First to my lungs and abdominal wall...who knows where else at this point. I have been receiving in-home care from Alive Hospice for over a month, but my health has declined faster than I expected. Jeffrey and I made the decision to transition my care to Alive's residential inpatient facility as of yesterday.

"I am sad to be dying this young, but I assure you that after much spiritual work--I am at peace with it. I have lived a life I am proud of. No regrets. I am ready to transition to the next plane.

"I am not receiving visitors as I am not strong or lucid enough. I welcome prayers, cards or any comments/memories here on this thread. Love and support offered to Jeffrey would be greatly appreciated as well.

"I do not have the energy to respond to comments, but know that I will read them, or have them read to me.

"I love you all dearly."

Heidi had a profound impact on the Southeast Missourian, not least through those who learned from her, kind of like how a professional football coach creates a tree of coaches who carry on a vision. Current editor Bob Miller, who is transitioning this week to a new adventure after 11 years as editor, said, "If I had the impact on anyone the way Heidi had on me, I'd consider myself successful." From Heidi and through Bob, a generation of journalists has been launched in this area.

On Heidi's Facebook post, last I looked, 377 people had commented. The comments are full of love and support. Many are from people in Southeast Missouri.

I'm certainly not the closest person to Heidi, but she slept on my couch many weekends when I was publisher of a newspaper in Dyersburg, Tennessee, because her boyfriend at the time was my sports editor. And my wife and I remember so fondly our times with her at various events, including visiting with her in Florida, where they exchanged notes about how they each loved the other person's hair more. I know there are many people here -- and around all of Southeast Missouri -- who were touched by her writing and friendship.

If you do a search online for Heidi Hall, Southeast Missourian, you will find many truly awesome columns. Here's her last one for the Missourian, which ran Aug. 24, 2005. We love you Heidi! Peace to you -- and our support to your husband, Jeffrey.

The following column was published Wednesday, August 24, 2005.

Time to end this column after 11 years

I should have quit on a high note, like "Seinfeld."

Too late for that.

So now I'm writing my final column after nearly 11 years, wishing it had stayed more relevant right up to the end, wishing I'd been more entertaining for the readers who stuck with me all this time.

A columnist who writes about politics or celebrities or business or local goings-on or history has lots of fodder. Writing about yourself and trying to make it relevant to the folks who take their valuable time to read it -- that's something else entirely. Especially when your life doesn't change remarkably from week to week. No kids or grandkids growing by leaps and bounds, no exciting travel to speak of, the same spouse for a decade.

I used to be a little more interesting. When I wrote my first column for the Southeast Missourian in September 1994, I'd just ended my engagement and was dating some new fellas, and, of course, they provided a lot of material. Like the one who gave me the tops of six equestrian trophies screwed into a piece of lumber for my birthday. "I found it at the flea market, and it reminded me of you," he said.

Never mind that I didn't own a horse, ride horses and we'd never discussed horses. He was just incredibly cheap.

Or the really dumb guy who confused CDs with CD-ROMs. But he sure was pretty.

Then I married, and there were all sorts of things to write about in our first year. Like who should leave when you're trying to throw each other out but both names are on the lease. "You get out!" "No, YOU get out!" That's the sort of thing etiquette books don't tell you.

We moved to Pensacola, Fla. The new location provided a lot of material -- for instance, why can't Florida fleas actually be killed? Why, after being poisoned, do they merely become stronger, more poison-resistant superfleas?

My insane Pensacola editor provided column inspiration as well. I'll never forget the day I asked her whether she'd had time to read one of the news stories I'd submitted. "I took a whack at it, swallowed a couple of No-Doz, splashed some water on my face, and now I'm trying to read it again," she growled.

If you've been following me, you know the rest -- a disastrous 10 months in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the crush of displaced Yankees nearly made me a hermit, and then the Southeast Missourian took me back as a manager.

And now here I am in St. Petersburg, enjoying the career opportunities those last three years at the Missourian afforded me.

After receiving these sorts of opportunities from the Rusts, the family that owns this newspaper, and from Joe Sullivan, the editor and my former boss, and after having the privilege of sharing my life with 20,000 subscribers and their families each week, I don't walk away from this column lightly.

It has been a cathartic activity, a way to work out what's in my head at the indulgence of a reading public.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for that. I hope you got a laugh or two from some of my tribulations with weight management (or mismanagement), marriage, office politics and home and pet ownership.

But now you deserve these column inches to be filled with something a little more entertaining and informative than I'm able to be these days.

I will miss you.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor for the Southeast Missourian. Jon K. Rust is the current publisher.