Colleague’s Death Has Long Lasting Effects

We are sometimes faced with experiences that deeply affect us, that make us ask questions to which there may be no answers.  One of them is untimely death.

The Inquirer staff was shocked March 30 when we received news that a former Inquirer editor in chief had died in a car crash three days earlier.

Jerry Backman Jr., 22, was found dead inside his car after it hurtled over the side of Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Oakland Hills. Witnesses were cited in news accounts as having told the California Highway Patrol they saw his car speeding down Grizzly Terrace Drive and that he appeared to have deliberately driven over the steep cliff.

It was this fact – that his death may have been a suicide – that profoundly changed how we were affected.

For those of us who had worked with him, there was the ever-nagging question: “Did I miss a chance to help?”

Jerry used a name from his grandfather’s side, “Fredrickson,” and went by “Jeremy” while editor in chief during the spring 2008 semester.

Jeremy was funny and well-liked. But while we spent many hours and days together, he never opened up, never gave much of a chance for anyone to get to know him.

It was a friend relationship that began in the classroom and ended in the classroom. There wasn’t much more to it than that.

But we wonder: Did he consider us his friends?

Did we have an effect on his life?

Did he ever think of us?

Did he think of us that day?

And most of all, why?

Just days earlier, two editors had talked to Jeremy, while passing out copies of the March 19 issue of The Inquirer. They joked with him for a minute or two, and then he walked away.

Just like that, he was gone.

Jeremy’s death leaves us with a new awareness of our effect on others, and theirs on us. We see the value of making the effort to get beyond “just acquaintances” and to treasure every moment we share together.

Perhaps that was his gift to us.

Although the news room is somewhat somber these days, we must move on. And as time passes, the relaxed, jovial atmosphere will return.

But there is one certainty: We will never forget.