I want to tell you about a wonderful man who had a remarkable influence on my life, and on so many others.
Thomas Hiser Harman of Centerville, Virginia, was my first editor. I didn’t go to journalism school. Tom Harman was my journalism school. He died last Thursday, December 6 at the age of only 54 after a short illness and was laid to rest Tuesday in his hometown of Martinsburg, West Virginia. He left behind a beautiful family, his wife Susan and his two children, Samuel Morgan Harman and Lucille Irene Harman.
Tom and I worked together in the mid-1990s at a publication called New Fuels Report, which covered subjects ranging from electric vehicles to the ethanol industry. For nearly two years, we worked about three feet from each other, doing journalism. As you can imagine, we got to know each other very well and developed a bond that was never broken.
When Tom hired me, he thought I had potential but knew I had no experience, and my first week at work, I had no idea in the world what I was doing. Talk about the “imposter syndrome.” But Tom patiently taught me about the complicated industry I was to cover and about how to go about being a reporter, giving me the encouragement and confidence to imagine that I could actually do it.
“Get on the phone,” he’d say, politely but firmly, as I sat at my desk flummoxed about what to do next. It’s advice I’ve taken throughout my career as I paused in trepidation or indecision.
It was one of many phrases and lessons I would learn from him.
I still hear his voice in my head more than two decades later. “Write what you know,” he told me. Sounds simple and easy, right? It’s not. In countless moments throughout my career, as I wrote, I stopped to ask myself, “Wait, do I know that?” Sometimes the answer was “no,” of course, and in those times, Tom saved me from myself.
It was advice that is the basis of good “mainstream” reporting, so often ignored by today’s opinion-driven, thinly sourced journalism. Tom taught me to take myself out of the story. Today, journalists who are supposed to be unbiased too often make themselves the center of the story, sadly for all of us. For years before I became an opinion journalist, my colleagues and sources had no idea what my politics were and knew I’d write a fair story. Because of Tom.
I am so proud to have had Tom as my teacher. What I regret is that I have not learned all I could have from him as a man. I assure you, nobody who knew him will argue with me about these things you will read next, which don’t seem possible.
Tom was completely, utterly honest. There simply was no dishonesty within him. He never once in my presence said a nasty thing about another person. He truly believed there was good in everyone, and that this was the thing to look for in them. His skepticism hat was worn only when practicing his craft, which required it. He was simply a kind man, and generous with his kindness, with his knowledge and, whenever you needed it, with his help.
I am sad to say that Tom and I saw each other only a few times after I stopped working with him, though we stayed in regular contact on Facebook up until just before he died. What a dumb thing, not have taken more time to see him.
Susan, Sam, and Lucy, I am so, so sorry. It was such a pleasure to meet you for the first time at Tom’s funeral Tuesday. Your husband and your father live on in you and in so many others whom he touched. And he will wait for you in heaven.
And I will try to honor him by simply being more like him. I’ll never be as patient, generous or kind. I’ll never be as incapable of saying something mean. But I know I can do much better. Because of Tom.