Friday, October 21, 2011
R.I.P. Rebecca Breeden
Rebecca Breeden as the 2004 Spanish Town Mardi Gras Queen
One of my first assignments was covering a blues jam at a club in an unfamiliar part of town. I was hopelessly green, not really knowing how to capture a story or what to do with it should one fall in my lap. Looking around the room for insight, I saw a young woman with a little notebook just like mine. Rebecca Breeden had been working at the newspaper for a while on the entertainment beat, and we leaned in over our notes to see what we could collectively glean of the situation. She knew some people; I knew some people. We made some sense of the thing. It was the first time I felt like I had any business doing what I do.
What I learned from Rebecca that day, and continued to learn from her over the years, is that we are always green; all situations are new territory and the only way to capture those situations is to have eyes and ears open and mind ready to process. My every encounter with Rebecca as a colleague and as a friend further pressed that idea into me. She often edited my pieces at 225 and helped me navigate the waters of a professional writing environment. As a reporter, she was vigorously curious, especially about the gray areas where religion and politics overlap. She was open to both, and equally suspicious of both, and understood that they are mortar and brick to understanding this region. Even when I didn't agree with her, I found her insight and her manner of approaching things to be inspiring. She was the calmest of jackhammers.
Cancer is a terrible way for someone who was the exact opposite of a cancer on society to go. I'm thankful that I got to work with such an individual. I'll miss her wry smile and that big ol' Loretta Lynn hairdo of hers. I'll miss the openness she exhibited to me and everyone she met. I'll miss the country twang that buttered everything she said. I'll miss every visit to that little house on Bungalow. I'll miss her.
Edited to add: Sandor Gulyas unearthed a picture Teddy Johnson (of Teddy's Juke Joint) took of Rebecca and me covering the blues jam at the Buddy Stewart Rhythm Museum. Culture journalism in action, circa 2006. Here's the piece I wrote on it.