Rich Rogin was my mentor, my adviser, my advocate, my defender; on occasion, he was the witting victim of my peculiar sense of humor. Most of all, he was my friend.
If I never thanked him for all he meant to me, it was probably because I never fully realized it until it was too late to tell him.
I met Rich in the summer of 1986. I had just started working at ABC News as a correspondent in New York. I was as green as the grass on the Great Lawn of Central Park. Rich was a veteran field producer who specialized in investigative stories. I was in my early 30s. Rich was in his mid-50s. I am African-American, from Los Angeles. Rich was Jewish and from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We were a perfect fit.
Rich was as serious a journalist as anyone I ever met. He had a passion for facts and information. As a journalist, he was dogged and thorough. He did the difficult, relentless, behind-the-scenes work that is critical to television news but invisible to viewers. Rich had high standards — maybe impossibly high. He used to complain about one reporter was "very mediocre." I loved that expression. Only Rich would feel compelled to append the word "very" to a description of something or someone being mediocre. He detested mediocrity.
Rich was a moral man. He had a fervent sense of right and wrong. If someone or something violated his moral code, his face would darken and he would mutter that it was "outrageous, just outrageous."
Early in my career, I was once covering a mob trial with Rich. When the verdict came down, the story was assigned to one of the big-name correspondents. I was very disappointed. But Rich was characteristically outraged. The next thing I knew he had fired off a blistering letter of complaint — this was pre-e-mail — to various bosses and editors. I was amazed and deeply touched by his gesture. I also thought he would get himself trouble, maybe lose his job. I don't think he cared. If he believed a wrong had been done, Rich would speak out and he would always speak loudly. Fortunately, he got away with it.
Colleagues recall that Rich and I were always arguing with each other. I recall it as vehement debates — about news, the news media, the responsibilities of reporting, about accuracy and fairness, about writing and style. But I also as much prone to baiting as debating Rich. Because he was such an "old" guy, I called him Pops. He just laughed. Sometimes, he would sarcastically reply by calling me Sonny. I also called him The Rogue.
I loved to tease Rich. He could be such a serious, even cranky guy at times. Naturally, that made him ripe for my oddball sense of humor. But I respected him deeply. I watched him and learned from him. I flatter myself to think I absorbed a small measure of his moral sensibility and fierce integrity.
When I met him, Rich was single. He had been married and divorced. He was devoted to his children who he called often and his elderly mother who he cared for daily.Then, out of the blue, Rich was seeing someone. He had met a woman by answering a personal ad in the New York Review of Books. Her name was Abigail Thomas, a writer, and — to deliberately to use an expression that would surely have caused Rich to grimace (I am still teasing you, my friend) — his heart was pierced by Cupid's unerring arrow. It took the staid Mr. Rogin all of two weeks from their first date to propose to her. I attended the wedding a few months later. It was at a loft in the Village. Rich and Abbey were so happy, so perfect together. I remember a saxophonist playing a gorgeous, languid tune after the vows were exchanged.
Not long afterward, in 1991, I transferred to the Los Angeles bureau of ABC News. For the next 15 years, I worked in L.A., Chicago, Miami and Boston. I lost touch with Rich. He left ABC News.
Then, one day, I heard that Rich had been in a terrible accident. He was struck by a car while chasing after his dog who had slipped his leashed. Rich was severely brain-damaged. He would never be the same again. On January 1st, 2007, Rich died.
I can never thank Rich now. The next best thing was to tell this to Abby, to thank him through her if such a thing makes any sense. I guess that's what we do for ourselves.
So, a few weeks ago, for my Good Morning American Weekend Edition " "Giving Thanks" story, I drove north to Woodstock, N.Y., where she lives. It had been 20 years since I'd last seen her but she greeted me warmly.
We chatted in the cozy living room of her house on a cold late autumn afternoon. I had read her memoir, "A Three Dog Life," so I knew how tough the last seven years of Rich's life had been for both of them. In the book she quotes Rich saying once "I don't know who I am." Those words have haunted me ever since I read them.
As Abby showed me photos of Rich from over the years, I felt a warm glow inside and a flood of memories. I also felt ineffably sad. It was so unfair, so wrong, what had happened to Rich. It was outrageous.
Toward the end of my visit, I told her that I had always intended to visit Rich. A close friend of Rich's from ABC, Michael Bicks, and I kept talking about going together. Bicks had seen Rich. I hadn't. But it never happened. I didn't do it. And then Rich was gone.
"You always think there's time," I said. "But one day there isn't."
So, now it is too late for me to thank my friend, Rich Rogin. All I can do this say it out loud to those who knew and loved him, and to myself.