The Eric Factor: Saying goodbye to the smartest guy I know
His story wasn’t supposed to end this way. My friend Mark Mayhew had open-heart surgery last Spring. At the time, I didn’t even know he was going through it because he was a pretty private guy. He probably didn’t want the attention and I’m told he shooed away visitors at the hospital because he wanted to get through the trouble by himself. Not to mention, I was going through my own health troubles at the time. But when Summer arrived (I think it was in July) he called me up. “Eric, I want to come down and see you in the Quad Cities.” The weather looked great one Saturday, so he put the top down on the old MG and drove down Highway 2, all the way from Rockford. And I mean ALL the way down, even on the old, bumpy road from Sterling to Hillsdale. He loved the two-lanes!
Mark was the Assignment Manager at WREX, the TV station I worked at before coming to WQAD. When he got to town, we met here at Channel 8 and I showed him around the station. He asked, “Are you happy here?” I nodded and then he smiled. This station was good to me, as the station in Rockford was good to him. Since the sun was shining, we set out like “Thelma and Louise,” exploring the Quad Cities. We stopped by Lock & Dam #15 in Rock Island to marvel at the engineering and history, rode up to Antique Archaeology in Le Claire, and up to Go Fish in Princeton for lunch. We sat outside and took in the fresh air. We toasted the fact that we had health on our side again.He had a salad, even though I tried to persuade him that they had a really good Pork Tenderloin. This second chance at life, he took seriously. He put five miles on the treadmill each day and lost tons of weight. He was doing it right.
That’s what makes last week’s heart attack so hard to understand. Friday night, right after his walk on the treadmill, it happened. I am a believer that his nine months of being super healthy allowed him to survive long enough for many of his friends and family to visit one more time. But the time it took paramedics to get Mark’s heart going again was too much for his brain.
And this guy was super, super smart! A staple on talk radio in Rockford for many years, he got the nickname “Mister Know-It-All.” It wasn’t a term used to describe a bragger, it was because he did know a lot! He remembered things that other people forgot. He remembered every car he drove on every road trip down Route 66. He remembered the news events that everyone else forgot. He remembered the impact those news events had on the community. That’s why he was a natural at the TV station.
But living without the ability to remember? That just wouldn’t be Mark. From Friday on, he was allowed to rest comfortably. He passed away last night, holding his beloved Sylvia’s hand.
So, I got to this point and stopped typing.
What do I say now? Why am I typing this? Why do you care?
Well, part of it is self-serving. It’s so I can remember why this guy is important to me. And writing this story made me smile which has been really hard to do today. Writing this story helped me remember that he was kind, simple, generous, adventurous, and smart. But on top of all those things, I realize he dearly loved the people around him.
I guess it’s not too late for me to change my curmudgeon ways and replace the french fries with a salad. Point is, life can change in an instant and if this is the last one I’ve got, I hope the people around me have half the amount of reverence they do for Mr. Mark Mayhew.
I’ll miss you, Mark. Ya did good. And I can still hear your voice saying “All local, all day. This (pause) is WNTA.”
Enjoy the sunshine up there. -Eric