As much good as social media can do, there are certain things that it doesn’t do well. One of those things is bracing you for really bad news.
Last night, I learned that a friend of mine passed away suddenly on Tuesday. He was far too young, just months away from his 40th birthday. His name was Joel Connable.
Joel was an incredible young man. I first met him when I was working in Columbia. I knew it was his first job in broadcasting, at least until I saw him do his first live shot. I immediately doubted his resume — or, more appropriately, his lack of resume.
If there were anyone who belonged in front of a television camera doing news, it was Joel. He talked to the camera as if it were a close friend; he didn’t get nervous, he didn’t stammer. He never once got that deer-in-the-headlights look that even I got the first time I had to do a live shot. He was so smooth on the air that you just wanted to watch him.
I remember watching him feed the station a standup, the industry name for the portion of a news story in which the reporter is shown on camera while telling the story, during a flood in the area. This particular standup was more in the form of a “sit-down.” Joel had arranged with a man who lived in the flooded neighborhood to paddle him past a few houses on his street in a canoe. Because of the threat of more severe weather, Joel had only one chance to get this done, so it was essentially a live shot that would air about a half-hour later. We radioed Joel to tell him that we were rolling. And he started talking.
He went on for about 45 seconds or so, which is a very long time to talk live into a television camera when you know you only have one chance to get it right. He referenced things he saw as he passed them in the canoe. He didn’t make the first mistake. It would have been annoying as hell if it hadn’t been so amazing watching this “rookie” tell a story as if he’d been in the business for twenty years.
To give you an idea of how good he was, just so you’ll know I’m not exaggerating, his second job in television was working for KCAL-TV in Los Angeles. Quite a jump from Columbia, South Carolina, which was then the nation’s 88th-largest television market to Los Angeles, which is the 2nd largest (behind New York City).
Joel liked telling stories. And he liked helping people. His work on consumer stories immediately earned him a reputation as a problem solver, and the viewers really responded to him. It wasn’t unusual at all for them to wrap their arms around him and give him big bear hugs for accomplishing with a phone call (and TV camera) what they’d been trying unsuccessfully to solve on their own for months. He was joined in his problem solving efforts by another reporter named Adam Murphy. Adam and Joel became close friends and they remained so. I talked to Adam earlier tonight; we both found out at about the same time and via Facebook mentions. Like me, he said he stumbled across the news when he saw mentions of Joel on the Facebook feed. Like me, he says he can’t imagine that this is really happening.
Before his first broadcasting job, he worked as a Paramedic for the New York City Police Department. He liked people. You have to care about people to brave a job like that.
Joel started his own business, Travel News and Deals, a few years ago, and appeared as a guest on television newscasts across the country to talk about how to find great deals on travel. On his website, he reviewed cruise ships, hotels and resorts around the globe. You can watch videos of his reviews on that site, and you’ll see how good he was. Here’s a sample from last year featuring his therapy dog, Lola:
Just recently, he accepted a job in Seattle, and had only been on the job for a couple of days when he passed away. I last talked to him on Facebook about a month ago, when I congratulated him on the Seattle gig. It was a short conversation. Now I wish I’d have said more. Or called him on his cell.
Isn’t that always the way it is? We regret the things we didn’t take the time to do or say after assuming there’d always be time to do it later.
Joel suffered from Type 1 Diabetes, also known as Juvenile Diabetes. He wore an insulin pump, an incredible piece of technology about the size of an iPhone that could give him doses of insulin he needed to stay alive. According to a statement I saw attributed to his parents, there was a malfunction with the pump: the lead had become disconnected and Joel must not have realized it. They believe he must have had some sort of seizure.
He was never shy about his condition, and in fact, he helped raise awareness for Juvenile Diabetes by participating in fund-raising events for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The JDRF named him Volunteer of the Year in 2005 for his diligent work to find a cure for the condition. The next time you hear about that organization doing some kind of event in your area, if you think about it, donate to them. That would mean a lot to Joel, and it’d mean a lot to me, too.
When he passed away on Tuesday, he was only 39 years old. There’s never a good age to leave this earth: I think almost everyone wants more time than they have. But 39 is entirely too young. Particularly for a good guy like Joel.
If you didn’t know him, then I thank you for caring enough to read this far. I wish you could have known him: he was just a sweet man.
Joel was an encourager. If he knew a friend needed him, he’d be there. He’d listen. And he’d try to help you talk out what needed to be done to make the situation better. I’ll miss that, but I’ll miss him a lot more.
If you’re willing, I hope you’ll say a prayer for his wife, his family and the many people who were blessed enough to be able to call him a friend.
Joel would end his Travel videos with the line, “Wish you were here.” Those of us who knew him wish he were still here.