Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

I’ll miss Dan

I lost a best friend Monday morning.

But then, come to think of it, lots of people lost a best friend.

Dan Phillips, assistant publisher of The Oxford Eagle, was a friend to so many.

Dan, 47, died at the University of Alabama Birmingham medical facility after complications from a recent kidney transplant.

Dan was genuine. He loved people, and they loved him in return.

He was kind, considerate, caring, and had a wealth of knowledge. He was so level-headed. His sense of humor was second to none.

The list of quality adjectives to describe Dan could go on and on. Everything about him was good.

I’ve known Dan since moving to Mississippi 19 years ago. That relationship started building through our state newspaper family, the Mississippi Press Association. And I immediately respected him – his leadership and his judgment.

Dan served as president of the MPA and later as president of the National Newspaper Association. And he balanced all those “extracurricular activities” with church, family, work and so forth. He did that better than anyone I’ve ever known, and he had his priorities in order.

Then a few years back I had the opportunity to develop an even closer relationship with Dan, and I took advantage. He called me in 2001, saying his dad and the other South Reporter stockholders, were looking for a publisher.

It just so happened I had just resigned from my previous job. It was like it was meant to be.

About a month later, I accepted and moved to Holly Springs, and he’s one of the primary reasons I’m here.

I was so excited about working with Dan, and the entire Phillips family, and getting to know and love them even more.

That love has grown a lot since late June of 2001.

Dan was the first person I called when I found out Pam was pregnant with our surprise child, Erin. He, as always, encouraged me.

I’ve leaned on Dan’s newspaper expertise and friendship so much the past four and a half years. Dan and I have worked on several company-related projects together. We made road trips, and I learned more than I’ve learned in years, just from being around Dan.

I asked my wife Pam Monday, “What am going to do without him to call on?”

There will be such a void in my life. I can’t get his advice.

But I can thank God for those special times I’ve spent with Dan. He has made a tremendous impact on my life.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. It can’t be real. I’m in shock, just like everyone else who knew and loved Dan.

He remained so upbeat and positive, through the months of dialysis and the entire ordeal. I called him on days I knew he felt weak, but he would always say he was fine, and then he’d immediately turn the attention away from him and ask, “How’s Pam and Emma and Andy and Erin?”

I thank God that just a week after his recent kidney transplant, Pam and I drove to Birmingham on a Wednesday and visited with Dan and his lovely wife Susan.

Dan was doing great. His brother Tim, who gave him the kidney, was doing great and already home in Oxford. Dan talked about being home before Christmas.

Everything appeared to go perfectly.

I never thought it would be our last visit, our last hug.

I will never forget that two-hour visit that day. The four of us shared so much good conversation, so many smiles and laughs.

As we drove away that day, I told Pam, “I’m so glad we made this trip. It was so uplifting.”

It was indeed an afternoon I will remember for the rest of my life.

In fact, the memories of Dan and the lessons I learned from Dan will stay with me forever.

He was that type of person. He changed my life for the better.

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