Columns

Gimme Shelter: Remembering Nick

At 7 a.m. on a Monday more than a decade ago, alone in the Southampton Press newsroom, I was paralyzed, staring at the computer screen. Hired a week before, I’d come in on Friday to learn the computer system, how to access and navigate the server, get templates for stories, photo captions and how to file articles and columns.

But I didn’t listen to my instructor, who looked like she was still in high school. It wasn’t her fault, though, since anything that has to be plugged in has always been a profound mystery, and explanations provided are heard as gibberish. After a while, seeing my blank expression, she said the words we tech twits dread: “You’ll pick it up.”

I heard someone come into the silence of the newsroom, but didn’t look up, eyes locked on the screen, tentatively touching the keyboard, thinking: “Careful, when these things blow, they blow big.”

There was a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and Nick Morehead said, “I’ll be your Sherpa.”

He sat next to me and in 20 minutes I had it cold; what had been Everest was just two steps up to solid ground.

It was a comic secret we shared when I worked for the Press and then when I knew him on the Island. He’d send me information about South Ferry, or the Shelter Island Preschool, or a letter to the editor, and always say, “If you need help formatting this …” And once at the Post Office, looking at mail I’d just taken from my box, I heard a voice behind me: “Can you figure that out? See, the top left address means …”

I decided to arrive early for the Celebration of Life ceremony at Our Lady of the Isle on Saturday, figuring there would be a good-sized crowd. But I didn’t expect a line of cars going bumper-to-bumper up into the Heights, parking 1,000 yards away for the first available spot, or getting the last two seats in the last row of pews in the church with my colleague Jenifer Maxson, and Charity Robey scooting in just ahead of us. People stood, lining both sides of the church, and two-deep in the back, crowding the foyer, and on a sweet spring afternoon, standing on the steps outside to hear.

It was only right.

I knew, but it was good to realize again, that I wasn’t the only one who was touched by Nick’s generosity, humor and warmth. The turnout at the church and a garden party hosted by Kathleen Lynch, Fred Hyatt, Patty Quigley and Mike Dunning after, were more than impressive. In some ways it was overwhelming, how so many friends, of all ages, wanted to express what Nick meant to them.

He died May 15, at age 46, after a long struggle with cancer, leaving his wife, Paige, and two children, Larkin and Cayman. But at the service and the party afterward, Nick was very much alive.

Saturday afternoon, Our Lady of the Isle was filled with stories, memories, grief and tears, but balanced by much laughter, joy, and even a rousing soccer chant. Music was provided by Katie Springer and Anthony Pennino, Katie’s bell-clear voice soaring on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Sitting in the church, I remembered Nick as a complete pro of our profession. Peter Boody was editor of the Reporter when Nick worked there and we spoke when we both learned of his passing. Peter said that Nick’s time on the staff of the Reporter was his favorite of all on Shelter Island.

“He was terrific at his job,” Peter said. “An excellent reporter and writer who kept the copy flowing, never missed a beat, never had an issue. Steady, reliable, talented. He was thoughtful and insightful and just plain fun to have in the office, with a great sense of humor that lightened everybody’s spirits.”

He remembered Nick teasing Archer Brown, copy editor extraordinaire, when she had questions on stories Nick had filed. “I can hear him saying ‘Come on Archer, where’s the love?’” Peter said.

When Nick left journalism to work at South Ferry — or, as Peter wryly noted, “wised up” — he was missed at the paper. “Through all these years since, “ Peter said, “I’ve thought of him fondly and often, always hoping to catch him for an impromptu chat on the ferry.”

During the service at Our Lady of the Isle, when friends and loved ones from all parts of Nick’s life spoke about him, I remembered the time I first got to know him at the Press.

It was a happy newsroom, with no shortage of razor-tongued, hilarious misanthropes, typical of any confined space that contains newspaper people. Nick more than held his own, but his soft delivery always landed remarks and observations with special emphasis.

Steve Kotz, who was an editor then and is now, remembered a day when he came into the conference room of the paper for the weekly Thursday editorial meeting where next week’s paper would be hashed out. Before he got to the office, he said, he’d pulled into the parking lot of the post office, and noticed he was parked next to Christie Brinkley.

“I gave her that little nod of recognition you’d give a celebrity who wouldn’t know you from Adam,” Steve said. “I was surprised when she returned the greeting with a nod of her own and a warm smile. When I got to the office, I told my story and added, ‘Gee, do you think she’s got something for me?’ Without missing a beat, Nick looked up from his paper and said, ‘Yeah, it’s called a restraining order.’ That’s all it was, but whenever I think of it, I chuckle.”

At the memorial service, Island resident Reverend John Moore of the East End Church of Christ, said, looking out at the standing-room-only church, “You don’t fill up a building this size without being a good man.”

And Nick’s sister-in-law, Shelli Nicolet, in her eulogy, said, “He always wanted to know how to make other’s lives easier … He was the best of us.”

Shelter Island has honored a favorite son.

All I can add is: Farewell, and thank you, my friend.

(Credit: Emily Larson)