There is a vague, empty feeling you get once in a great while when, in ordinary circumstances, you say goodbye to a person and have a doubt that you will ever see them again. It happened here at the Journal a few Fridays ago when Delores McCain, our colleague, was heading out the door.
She hadn’t been feeling well, the illnesses she had been fighting and winning against over recent years were conflating again. She was optimistic and smart-mouthed as always but there was this sense that sickness was coming back around for her.
So a few days later it wasn’t a surprise to hear from her that she was back at Rush. And there she stayed through a circle of treatments and near comebacks, setbacks and procedures that left her weak, ravished. Early Saturday she died.
I didn’t visit Delores at Rush though others from the office made the trip. For the past three years she has called me the ‘Angel of Death,’ warning me off from her side after twice in just 10 days I had been with two members of our staff as they came to sudden deaths. I didn’t think Delores was kidding, so I stayed my distance, having learned early that you didn’t mess with her.
My first encounter with Delores McCain, a Forest Parker, was an angry phone message about 10 years back. She reamed me out over the failure of the Forest Park Review to cover Black History Month. I returned that call, took some considerable abuse, and said to her, “We’re short-staffed, not insensitive. If you’re so strong on Black History Month why don’t you get over here and help us write it.” That should have shut her up. Instead she came over. And, by God, we covered Black History Month.
From there Delores took a job at our front desk, and then she started writing for our paper in Austin, and then through her reporting – but mainly because of her weekly StreetBeat feature – she became the face of the Austin Weekly on the West Side. Everyone knew Dee. Everyone loved Dee.
She had a remarkable story, a Chicago story, a civil rights story. Over the years she’d slowly produce the newspaper clippings and the black-and-white snapshots that put her actively in the midst of the Chicago events that changed our perceptions of race, our dealings across the color line. She wasn’t a major player, never suggested she was, just that she was there when it counted.
In this office, across Austin, Delores McCain was loved. She was funny, barbed, genuine, loving. She remembered people, understood the connections, knew her history. In our 30 years in business there have been a handful of people around here who have changed us and shaped us. Delores is one of them. She brought out our best, lifted us when we were down, had our back when we were battling. And she always told us when we were wrong. You don’t get that combination much in life.
If you met Delores you were lucky. If you knew her some you were blessed.
We send her on her way, grateful for her life and our small parts in it.