Mississippi journalist Tom Dees died Thursday morning, just days before his 58th birthday, as he waited on a lung transplant.
Tom was the longest-tenured journalist at FOX13 in Memphis, and his career was marked by a dogged determination to find the truth. He was known by all as kind and honest, and his stories were kind and honest as well. He loved North Mississippi, and for so many years, he was their voice.
“Those stories were almost always filled with the real people of the region, who the stories impacted most. It was easy for Tom to find those real people, because he was one himself,” said his eulogy on the FOX13 news page. “In an industry known for big personalities and egos, there was no pretense to Tom Dees. Each day he put on a white dress shirt, khakis and big belt buckle and headed out in his news car to serve his community.”
That’s the truth. Tom saw journalism as a service to his community. He saw the human side of every story, and recoiled at the idea of “fast-food” journalism — the quick-hitting, one-sided stories that sometimes television news is accused of.
I got to know Tom as we covered the Jessica Chambers murder case in Panola County starting in 2014. At first we were rivals in my mind — Tom was the one to beat to the scoop. But as we got to know each other and connected over the fact that we’re both martial artists and we both have ties to the midwest and both of us are from military families, I found a guy I was glad to call my friend in that rival. It got to where we’d talk openly about the stories we were both working on, knowing that we were essentially on the same team: The one that says the public has the right to know the actual truth.
One day I went off on Facebook about the way the public was acting about a particular story, and I got a message from Tom.
“Being a journalist will make you tired of these idiots…lol…just because you care too much,” he wrote.
And he did care. He cared about all of you. He cared about the truth. He cared so much about his family, and he was so proud of them.
I knew Tom had been sick. I had watched his struggle with his illness on Facebook with a knot in my stomach. Every Sunday he would post his thoughts, usually starting with, “Sundays are a time of deep reflection for me. This Sunday is no different.” It was usually followed by some ruminations on life and death, joy, hope, or something equally deep.
His last one broke my heart.
“This Sunday I struggle. I am sicker than I have ever been. Fighting a terminal illness.
At the same time, I pray that God keep all of you safe.”
Today I went to his page and scrolled back for probably 5 minutes, trying to get past all the remembrances other people had written about this man who helped so many people and touched so many lives, trying to find things he posted before he died. It’s like I wanted to hear his voice one more time. We weren’t terribly close, to be honest, but I saw him as an ally in the fight for truth, and I needed some nugget of Tom’s wisdom because this fight is hard and I’m tired, and his death just felt too close to home.
Thank you, Tom, for being my rival, then my friend, then my ally, and now my inspiration. Godspeed, brother.