By MATTHEW E. BERGER
There are people who are constants in your life, arriving at an undefined moment and in the background for the large and small milestones. And then there are those who are with you for just a short time, but leave an impression that is everlasting.
Michael Triplett, president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, died last month, losing his battle with oral cancer. He was too young—48—and had too much left to give. Michael had a journalist’s convictions and a lawyer’s fire. He was a strong advocate for the communities he cared for. But what he taught me was that quiet, persistent passion can often be more effective than being the loudest voice in the room.
I first met Michael six years ago when, as president of NLGJA’s D.C. chapter, I sent out a notice seeking a treasurer. Michael responded that he knew how to balance a checkbook. We’d meet for coffee regularly, choosing our Starbucks based on the attractiveness of the baristas. It was there that I realized that Michael was not like many other journalists. He was stoic and focused in a fast-paced environment. Nothing seemed to faze him.
Michael succeeded me as chapter president and helped organize forums on the 2008 elections. He soon became a member of NLGJA’s national board and then its vice president. Our friendship was upgraded as well, as we started meeting for brunch in Clarendon, at a spot chosen for its buffet (as well as the large number of cute, young suburban dads).
In the short time we were friends, Michael changed in my eyes. He became more outspoken, more comfortable in his own skin. He seemed to be hitting his stride. He found a partner, was promoted at work, was doing charity work overseas. Michael seemed happy, well adjusted, successful, as if he had the whole world in front of him.
On Michael’s 47th birthday, he started a Tumblr page – My 48th Year. There, he spoke of his happiness at home and at work. “But I also get to see a doctor today about my cancer,” he wrote. “A week after it being diagnosed, Jack and I are going to see a head and neck oncologist to figure out what to do about this little tumor on my tongue. Well, I hope it’s little. I pray it’s little. We will see.”
Michael saw opportunity in everything, even cancer. He blogged often about the indignities of his treatment, how he lost the taste for food and found it difficult to shave. He wrote essays on oral cancer, its link to the human papilomavirus (HPV) and the potential for it to be spread through oral sex. And he showed the lighter side as well, how he may have been the only person who could thank cancer for making him look younger and thinner.
As he fought cancer, Michael pressed on. He rarely missed a meeting or an email exchange. He kept chairing committees and blogging for our website. When NLGJA was asked to join an alliance of minority journalists known as UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, Michael was the voice that brought calm to sometimes contentious meetings. He was the leader we needed, and he soon became our president.
Throughout the fall, it seemed Michael kept being told he needed one more treatment or surgery. When he got the news he had been dreading, that the cancer was terminal, he took to Tumblr to share the news and his thoughts—a writer to the end.
Michael showed me that advocacy can take many forms. He fought for what he believed in because he knew his thoughtful words and sweet nature would get his point across. He knew a good writer uses his pen for everything, from advocacy to therapy.
But more importantly, Michael showed me there is more than one way to make an impression. Michael left many, and our community is better for his efforts and his passion.
A memorial service will be held at noon on Saturday, Feb. 2 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 4900 Connecticut Ave., N.W. A reception will follow. Memorial contributions may be made to NLGJA (2110 L St., N.W., Suite 850, Washington, D.C. 20037); St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; or to Hospice Family Care (3304 Westmill Dr., S.W., Huntsville, Ala. 35805).
Matthew E. Berger is vice president of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis communications firm, and a member of NLGJA’s board of directors.