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Saturday, November 10, 2012
Farewell, Dear Friend
Life always brings us great
highs and some unthinkable lows. Like a well-tuned sine wave, the peaks of the
highs of life are often ecstatic and joyful, like the birth of a child, the
marriage of a loving couple, etc. Yet, to remain in balance, the lows mirror
the opposite highs. And almost to anyone, the lowest point we can find is the
loss of someone close to us; perhaps a family member or a good friend. The
sadness and grief seem insurmountable; a return to normalcy a distant light
similar to the stars, light-years away, unreachable in our lifetimes. Many of
us stand at that low point this weekend, for we have lost a son, a brother, a
husband, and a good friend this past week, Joel Connable.
My life experiences in Jewish
ritual have brought me through many occasions of this cycle of life. Though not
an ordained rabbi, I have officiated at many of the happy events and all too
many of the saddest. I have officiated at numerous funerals, both for
acquaintances and strangers. Yet, as prepared as I am to officiate when called
upon, I have found that as of late, I am ill-prepared to deal with the loss of
a close friend or relative. I find myself in that situation, once again.
I knew Joel for a couple of
years before I had even met him. Joel came to South Florida as a reporter for
our local NBC "O & O" (Owned and Operated) station, WTVJ,
Channel 6. From the start, my wife and I liked his reporting style. He did not
simply look into the camera; Joel looked through the camera, directly
at his viewers. Each of us felt that Joel was speaking directly to us.
Before too much time had passed,
one of NBC6's key anchors, the wonderful Tony Segretto, retired, leaving the
main 6 PM and 11 PM newscasts needing someone to step into Tony's shoes, and
those were big shoes to fill. Smartly, Joel was chosen as the new anchor and he
transitioned into the position seamlessly. Bear in mind that Tony had been a
long-time name and favorite at NBC6, having been one of the three people who
hunkered down in the old studio and weathered Hurricane Andrew in 1992. At that
time, Tony was the lead sportscaster from the station and had spent his entire
career at WTVJ. No matter who was awarded the anchor's chair, he or she would
be looked at very critically by WTVJ's viewers. Yet, Joel sat down that first
evening and "sold it."
The two stories that had the
most impact on my of Joel's ability to deliver news were the story he did on
his own health situation with Type 1, Juvenile Diabetes. Joel was first
diagnosed around the age of twelve or thirteen and by this point, was using an
insulin pump to regulate his system. In this story, he spoke directly to a younger
audience, South Florida teens, who were fighting the same battle as he had. It
was a great educational peace, expressing the fact that even with JD, you could
achieve whatever your dreams were. He explained that he had himself been a
paramedic, a volunteer firefighter, a private pilot, and even a news anchor. He
admonished the kids to not give up on life. instead, they should shape their
lives into what they wanted. JD was just along for the ride.
The second story was the
miraculous landing of the US Airways jet in the Hudson River in New York City.
Both his passion for and, experience in aviation, gave him a unique perspective
to report from, unlike the average reporter who would simply be a
"newsreader." Joel used every "weapon" in his arsenal, to
help the viewer understand every angle of the accident, the rescue, the impact
on the passengers, and most of all, the pressure and stress that the pilot and
co-pilot were under once they made their fateful decision.
Our family watched that 6 PM
newscast each evening, followed by the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Until, one week in 2009, we found substitutes sitting in Joel's chair. At
first, we took it as his vacation time or illness. After several weeks, we knew
there had to have been a change. Never one to just walk away from change of
something I liked, I started snooping around online to see if I could determine
where had he disappeared to.
Finally, I turned to Facebook.
There, I found Joel's page. Though there were no hints there as to what had
happened between him and NBC6, I learned more about his life. I dropped him a
polite note, advising that our family missed him and inquiring if everything
was OK in his life. I also mentioned that I too, had been a volunteer
firefighter/EMT, in Upstate New York and that my partners and I had a
production company working to produce a reality series based on the fire
service. If he had any interest, I enclosed my business number for him to call.
Honestly, I didn't expect to receive an answer. This guy was an anchor at a
major television station, one actually owned by the network. He had hundreds of
Facebook "friends," and I would probably be looked at as a
And that was exactly what didn't
happen! Joel accepted my "friend" request and wrote me a very nice
note. While he didn't explain what was going on with him and NBC6, he did
express an interest in our plans for a TV series and would love to get together
to have lunch and talk. No matter where you're from, if you're a firefighter
and meet another firefighter, the first thing you both do after the preliminary
greetings, is to swap fire and rescue stories with each other. We met at a
Kosher Israeli restaurant in Sunrise and spent a couple of hours getting to
know each other and tossing around ideas to tweak our concept for the
It was Joel, who before we had
even spoke with any companies or agents in Los Angeles, who had the idea of
steering the show away from the run-of-the-mill, everyday-type of calls, to
highlighting departments, not just domestically, but internationally, as well,
that had to meet unique challenges that most of us would never see. The scenes
started popping up, one after the other, San Francisco and the Golden Gate
Bridge, Hawaii County Station 19 on Kona, facing at least two active
volcanos, Israel Fire Brigade and Magen David Adom (Israel's EMS) rockets being
fired over the border daily, Paris with their mobile Emergency Rooms, and many
more. This was where Joel's love for and experience in travel provided us with
several "ins" for contacting international departments. It was also
his idea that instead of a standard "host" for the show, we would
make the host participate in every rescue or incident. The host would be like a
fish out of water, thrust into the most difficult parts of the incident.
I loved his ideas, but more, I
loved his passion and dedication. He took my original idea, fine-tuned it to
meet what we believed would generate interest as a news reporter and thus, to
the networks, and gave it a strong breath of life. We entered the restaurant as
acquaintances via social media and walked out as friends.
Needless to say, when I spoke
with my partners that evening, everyone liked what they heard. They liked the
edge that Joel brought to the concept of the show and they too were amazed,
that from such an inconsequential connection via social media, we had a new
direction to use to steer our production.
At the same time, Joel and his
business partner were now working on their travel promotion business. Yet, he
never turned me down for a lunch meeting or a planning session. At that time,
we had a new puppy, Remy, and once, when we were going to meet at his
apartment, he invited me to bring Remy to meet his adorable Lola. I packed Remy’s
bag with her food and toys to keep her busy so as not to bother Lola if they
didn’t socialize well. No need to worry. They got along famously, running all
around the apartment, jumping over the couches, the tables, the toys, and yes,
That December, he hosted a
get-together at his apartment on the Saturday evening of the Winterfest Boat
Parade. His living room, on the thirtieth floor, had a beautiful view of the
New River, and though it was raining, the parade went on and we had a fantastic
view. As the consummate host, he was running around making sure everyone had
something to drink and eat.
For the next few months we worked
hard on the show and making contacts. The existing partners of Dalmatian all agreed
that Joel had given so much to the new plan that we would bring him in as a
full partner of the corporation. We closed a deal with the San Francisco Fire
Department to fly out in April 2010 and film with them. Joel told me to take
care of the business side of the shoot and he would arrange all the travel plans
and bring on board our two terrific video-journalists, Adam Kaplan and Eric
Rodriguez. We had a great time with the
department and they were as helpful as could be. Unfortunately, the show did
not come about, but it was not due to lack of effort. We even put Joel in some
really unprofessional bits, but he was game for it all. “Whatever it takes,” he
told our partner, Jesse and me. While there, he did shoot a terrific piece on
the San Francisco Fire Department’s Ladder Shop, with Adam. That piece brought
us a Suncoast Emmy nomination.
During the shoot, I fell and
blew out my knee. Joel called the airline and tried to get me bumped up to
first-class. He was pretty “determined” on the phone, to say the least, but
that cabin was full. He came to me so apologetic that he hadn’t been successful.
I told him not to worry, I’d be fine. But that’s the kind of person he was.
Time passed and luckily, Joel’s “Travel
News Network” was becoming more and more successful. He was able to travel a
great deal, oft times, with his parents. I remember him telling me about their
upcoming trip to Europe and how much he was looking to be able to go with them.
As I used to do, I depended heavily on my late parents for advice and direction
when I was perplexed. When Joel was confused about his life, he turned to his
parents and as he would tell me of their conversations, they reminded me of my
own parents and the encouragement and advice they would give me.
As busy as he was, Joel would
still drop me a line here and there. When my wife had significant surgery this
past March, he chided himself in an email, for not having checked up on us
sooner. I told him not to worry about it, since we both knew how much he cared.
He told me about his darling Angela and the happiness she brought into his life.
About six weeks ago, I found a
couple of video games I had borrowed a while ago and had forgotten to return
earlier. I sent him the package with a “mea culpa” not enclosed. He wrote me
back and told me not to worry about it. Then he told me he was heading up to
Seattle, getting back into television news and he was going to be able to keep
the travel business going as well. But most importantly, he told me that he and
Angela were engaged. I wished him a “mazal tov” and we both said we’d be in
touch. But, we won’t. Not anymore.
May his soul be bound up in the bond of life and may his memory always be for a blessing.