Coffee With the Angels — Rick Stilwell: 1968-2013

When you reach a certain age — and if you’re under 35 or so, you haven’t reached it, yet — you occasionally feel a bit of trepidation when you click your bookmark for Facebook. That’s because you wonder if you’re going to receive some bad news about someone you’ve known for a long time.

On Friday around lunchtime, that happened to me and many other people who knew Rick Stilwell, who died suddenly at age 44.

As for the particulars — I offer them only because there’s something deep inside all of us that just wants to know why someone so young could leave us — the coroner says he suffered some sort of medical episode while he was driving, causing his car to veer into oncoming traffic, collide with a van and end up in an embankment. Thankfully, no one in the van was seriously injured and it is believed that Rick was gone before the collision happened, so there’s at least a bit of comfort in the belief that he didn’t suffer.

Rick was what WIS-TV in Columbia called a “social media guru.” It was his profession and one of many of his passions, leading to several appearances on that station in interviews on that topic. So legions of people tweeted tributes to him on Facebook. As one of them said, Rick would surely be proud of the community he helped build and foster.

Among the tweets a hashtag began appearing: #LiveLikeRick. I got to thinking about what that really meant.

I first met Rick back in high school. He was one year older than me in age, but because of the spacing of our actual birthdates, he was two years ahead of me: he was already a junior when I was a freshman, but my first memory of him was that he never treated me like I was some silly freshman whose only real purpose in life was to be tormented by the older kids. I was accepted from the start. That’s huge to a freshman in high school.


Rick loved coffee. His Twitter handle, in case you aren’t willing to take my word for it, was @RickCaffeinated. He loved seeing people connect and connecting with people. (Especially if coffee was involved.) He loved taking pictures, and he posted regularly on his Instagram account. Sometimes, he posted photos of coffee or his favorite coffee shop.

Like I said, Rick loved coffee.

Scroll through his posted photos and you’ll see some of his other passions: food, action figure toys, his Mini-Cooper that he named “Jeeves,” his faith and his family. Maybe the latter two explain why he so enjoyed helping people navigate the sometimes scary waters of social media to make meaningful connections, and why he was able to make so many himself.

I thought one of his best posts was called, “Morning Coffee with a Splash of Uncertainty,” in which he talked about dealing with (and getting over) a bad mood:

“I focused in on the to-do list, the tasks at hand. In the office, I put on my headphones, cranked up something fun, and just pressed through. I keep finding that whenever there’s a hesitation, whenever there’s something to stir up the muck like this, it’s best to just keep on keepin’ on – and find a good playlist to get your groove back on.

At the end of the day, I felt better but still had a cloud murkiness lingering overhead. So I pulled the trigger and sent out a call for anyone needing help. My area of expertise is social media tools/ideas, and if anyone needed something, I’d like to be a part of that. The last thing to get me out of that mire is the one that works the best – help someone else get out of theirs.

Among his other nuggets of wisdom:

  • On disagreeing without being disagreeable: “You’re going to make enemies. The key is to not BE one.”
  • On complaining: “Is that your schtick? And if so – if it’s not for comedy, but is just your way of venting constantly and forever – then for the love of all that’s good and worthwhile, stop. Get help. Change something. Move on.”
  • On getting in the game: “If you already have a blog, do that more – write meaningful pieces, showing your passion and knowledge in your field. Find other bloggers, comment on their pieces, and post links from your wheelhouse to theirs. Anything you can do to show your heart and to connect and engage with others in the same area, that’ll make the real difference as you start making something more of all this.”

If you didn’t get the chance to meet Rick and get to know him, I’m sorry about that, because you missed a great person.

Rick wrapped up a page about gratitude toward his website’s visitors with this:

“Let’s enjoy the time, make the best of it for the world, and work to grow and to learn together.”

Rick’s friends and family certainly enjoyed their time with him. It’s no wonder people want to #LiveLikeRick.

I hope we all can.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • I was thinking about Rick today and remembered your post from January and thought I’d pop in for a re-read. You did a great job at capturing his essence. Really nice piece, Patrick.

  • I didn’t know Rick, but this is an excellent tribute.
    Minor quibble with a very good post: my 19-year-old son found out about the death of a classmate on Facebook two weeks ago. Death is everywhere, at any age.

    • psalm23 Yes, I can understand. But it seems that once you hit a certain age, there’s an inkling of fear once in a while that you almost expect it. At 19, it’s not something you’d expect the way you might expect it at 40+.  For me, this is the second friend of mine to pass away in the last 3 months: Rick was 44, Joel was only 39. Scary stuff.

  • Well Said.  I knew Rick well, and have been stunned as everyone else.  Using his words is a very fitting tribute.  He was one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever known.  My life is better for having him be a part of it.  We love you Vicki, Trace and Cammie.  🙁

    • rsolito Thanks so much. Rick was indeed an amazing guy. How lucky any of us would be to have someone be able to say that their lives would be better for having known us! Rick was definitely that kind of guy.

  • I am so sorry to hear about this. I didn’t know Rick but I followed him on Instragram and loved that he showcased Columbia. He is a great loss to this city and I send my thoughts to his family and friends.

  • I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.  He sounds like a great guy.

  • I didn’t know Rick, but I recognize his Twitter handle. I’ve probably seen him respond to you, or vice versa, on your feed. I went to his website, read a bit of it, and came out thinking he must have been a great guy to know. His website even has a page just for thanking people for reading his site. Now that’s rare.
    His Twitter feed still has entries from 18 hours ago, mentioning how it was Friday, and a link to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. It feels so strange to think that he’s gone – not because I knew him or anything, but because this was a person who clearly had a lot to offer, seemed like a really nice guy, and then – poof – he’s yanked from the world. Just like that. It’s…disquieting.
    I wish for strength for you in your sorrow, and the same for his family…

      • @Stephen Shields msalakka It appears now that he suffered a heart attack while driving and was already gone by the time his car collided with the other one. Thankfully, no one else was hurt in that crash.

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