Last month I said goodbye to a mentor.
While we didn’t always see eye to eye, and I probably gave him a few of his grey hairs, Richard Massa helped shape me into the journalist and teacher I am today.
I’ll always remember my first semester. His passion – ok, somewhat loud nature – scared the bejeebers out of me.
I still remember the class where he slammed his hand on the podium, yelling “You cannot not communicate.”
I still use that line today. I found myself saying it last month, as I taught a group of girls and women about Bible journalism.
I also remember a line – but for the life of me, I don’t remember the reason – when Massa slammed his fist on the desk and said “you do not give underwear.”
Honestly, it might have been about what communication says, both verbally and non-verbally. Or it could have been in regards to something our class of misfits did on that day.
Regardless of the reason, as I was dating my now husband, that thought - and image of Massa hitting the desk - came to mind several times as I considered what the Lawman’s gifts might “say” about the status of our relationship.
Massa pushed me. He made me dig for truths. He didn’t take surface results for answers.
I remember when the Young Democrats were “corralled” into a space away from the oval, when President George H.W. Bush came to campus in 1992.
Massa gave me a name of the secret service agent who supposedly ordered the incident.
I played phone tag for hours, (remember this was pre-cell phone) tracking down the man.
I don’t remember exactly what the agent said, but I believe it was something to the effect he was on vacation at the time of the rally.
Looking back on it now, I believe Massa gave me a challenge to solve – because he wanted to see if I would have the tenacity to look beyond the easy answer to track down the information.
Think of it as a “bulldog let off a leash” mentality. It’s one that has served me well in my years as a journalist – especially when I’m building a story which seems to have more layers than an onion.
Massa taught me to always question answers . There’s a saying among journalists, “If your mother tells you she loves you, ask for a second opinion.”
Massa taught me to not settle for just the second opinion, but look for the third and beyond.
I’ve often had sources challenge me, as I’ve asked questions, digging for the deeper answers. With many accusing me of not believing them. My tenacity often viewed as a negative trait.
Well, they are probably right. Massa taught me to question everything. Questions which lead me to challenge the status quo, and to always look for the agenda behind the issue.
Massa taught me how to care for students. I think I’m a better adviser, because of watching him interact with students.
As my husband reminds me, I’m not just helping students produce a newspaper, I’m helping nurture young journalists at the start of their careers. I’ve learned to look beyond the actual product – the weekly newsprint - and into their hearts and lives.
Mr. Massa (I never progressed to calling him by his first name) laid the foundation, on which others have built upon. I’m who I am as a journalist, photographer, editor, teacher, mentor and friend because of his influence. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.
Kaylea M. Hutson is the managing editor of The Grove Sun. Have an idea for a column or story? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-786-2228.