#869: The Shooter

December 29th, 2017

“You know my human brain story?” I asked my wife.


“That was him.”


A shooter is dead. A photog. An old compatriot from a job a lifetime ago, that fabled “at my first paper” every journalist seems to start stories with.

He died of a heart attack. He was 61, too damn young. He was a quiet man, a funny one. He had a dry wit and a prankster’s edge.

Here’s my memorium for a shooter. Here’s a memorium for a man who was my friend.

Bob Gerrard was the first photographer I worked with regularly. It was at a small suburban paper no one seemed to respect. I once went for a training at the chain’s largest paper and a receptionist said “Oh… well, you’ve got to start somewhere” when I told her its name. A few months after I started, the reporter whose beat I took received a globe for his 20th anniversary with the company. He grabbed me by the arm and made me promise to leave before my own globe came.

But goddamn it, we made the world sing when it came together.

We were in the business of charting life. Boring, stupid, beautiful life. We were at your football games, your kids’ plays. We watchdogged the governmental meetings that set your existence but you were too up yourselves to care about. Like a thousand local news orgs in a thousand towns in a thousand nations, we printed up the moment when you were born and printed down the hospital where you died and the address where your loved ones can send the flowers.

Weekend after weekend, Bob and I would get stuck together on Saturday shifts. He the photographer, I the writer. We’d schlep ourselves to corn boils and harvest parades, then meet up again over car crash sites and house fires. I was awkward and stilted, too eager to make my name and get to a city. Bob was seamless everywhere he went, going quietly unnoticed until click, he got the shot. His journalism was about the world. My journalism was about me.

Bob had skills, but he was of the species Photographica professionalis at work. From high school football to house fires to laughing children at play, he got the shot and moved on. He got the shot every day and made it home to spend all the time he could with his Kathy.

Every cop in town knew him. They’d smile and chat with him by the disasters they were guarding, maybe let him get an extra peek he shouldn’t because, hey, it’s Bob. He’s the reason I know what human brains look like — he and a cop pointed out its smear on a road sign by a car crash to let rookie me know what I was in for. Charting life, even in a picturesque, wealthy suburb, isn’t always pretty.

It wasn’t ghastly; it was our jobs. The cops and firefighters and us. The people who do their jobs in crises rather than shriek that the world’s unfair.

He was at the paper for 20 years. He stopped being at the paper a decade ago — I don’t know the story. Last I heard he was working at a Binny’s, pleasant and happy and taking his beautiful pictures for fun, not pay.

And he’s dead, too young. He talked about military history and he talked about his Kathy and he talked about how funny he always found the scene in “The Paper” where the young photographer swears at every negative from the perp walk until she finds the right shot.

Bob always got the right shot.

I could make this about photography or about newspapers or I could take a cue from who I was before Bob showed me how to be a journalist and make this about myself. But I want this to be about Bob, an artist who quietly and seamlessly blended into the world and captured its essence in a short, perfect click.

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You are currently reading #869: The Shooter by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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