RIP Terry Fiedler

Star Tribune reporters Jon Tevlin and Eric Weiffering have written their own eulogy for Terry Fiedler, who died unexpectedly at age 47 on August 12. It was circulated internally at the Strib:

Terry loved Mustang convertibles, drives in the country, dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, Norma's banana cream pie, Famous Amos cookies, the poor boys and crayfish monica at Jackamo's in New Orleans, and Lucky Charms.

He loved the music of Warren Zevon, Bruce Robison and Greg Brown, and he loved books. Shortly after graduating from college Terry came across one of those lists of the 100 books that define the western canon. He made it a point to read them all and, for most of his life, knocked back an average of 2 new books a week.

Terry loved Grand Marais, golf anywhere but especially at scruffy "country" courses like his beloved Afton Alps with Tom Buckingham or Jon Losness or Dick Odegaard. He loved cheddar cheese, the Savoy Inn, El Vez (The Mexican Elvis), movies with Will Ferell, and Michael Rybak's Neal Young imitation.

Terry laughed, along with everybody else, at Burl Gilyard's rendition of the Terry Fiedler trouser pull.

Anyone who knew Terry knew that he loved his nieces and nephews, his brothers and parents. Every year his mother, Norma, spent a week at Terry's place in Afton, cleaning it from top to bottom. He loved taking her out to dinner every night. He hated to see her go.

Even if you'd never met Terry's brothers you knew them. Terry called Kevin the bigger, nicer Fiedler; Tim was the smart one and Kraig the only one patient enough to work for Jerry Fiedler, who Terry usually referred to as, "the old man."

Until I met Terry I'd never heard that phrase used outside of literature nor uttered with such affection. He loved Jerry and he loved Jerry's story, from lot boy and car detailer to owner of Fiedler Ford.

He especially envied Jerry's full head of hair.

Terry loved Stoli gimlets and after-work happy hours, and the bartenders and waitresses loved Terry and his big laugh and big tips.

Terry loved anything absurd, like a monkey riding a dog. In fact, on days when things were going particularly badly, he'd say, "Wouldn't you just love to see a monkey riding a dog right about now? It would just make you feel good."

Of course, Terry had his dislikes, too, and he wasn't bashful about sharing them.

Terry disliked injustices to his friends, buckthorn, house cleaning, disloyalty, phonys and artifice of all kinds. He disliked the Vikings, cheats, bloggers and vegetables, unless you consider Captain Ken's Baked Beans a vegetable.

Terry disliked people who abused power and people who ingratiated themselves with people in power. Terry disliked anyone who was nonchalant about their work, or bad at it. He called them, "tremendously untalented," or, worse, "aggressively stupid."

He also disliked people who didn't take the time to find out who you are, or thought you were just another warm body. "People are not interchangeable," he said frequently.

Terry had more close friends than anybody. Like a big, gravitational force he pulled people into his orbit. He kept making friends to the end, but he also had them from as far back as the third grade and he was unwaveringly loyal to every one of them. In times of need, he gave them money, advice, or a room in his house. And he could keep a confidence. It's no wonder many here today considered Terry their best friend.

Terry loved and sometimes hated the Packers. There was nothing funnier, or scarier, than seeing Terry in his green and gold, a large wedge of foam cheese on his head, screaming obscenities at Brett Farve. My son was there once, wide-eyed, having never previously heard those words in all of his 10 years.

When the Wisconsin Badgers were one game away from a Rose Bowl berth in 1994, a bunch of us gathered at Terry's to watch the Tokyo Bowl. Scott Gillespie judged Terry's TV too small and went to Best Buy and bought the biggest set available, fully intending to return it after the game. It took Tony Kennedy, Terry and Scott to get it through the front door. The party lasted until dawn.

Terry loved a good story. He never thought of journalism as a profession. "It's a calling," he said. He turned down big jobs in corporate America. Whenever he heard about another journalist taking what he considered to be a soul-sucking job he'd turn to one of us and say, "Promise that you'll run me down in the parking lot if you ever hear that I've taken a job like that."

It drove Terry nuts when journalism failed to live up to its potential.

"Words mean something", was a favorite saying. Often, he'd see a poorly executed story, slap his hand on the newspaper and practically shout: "THAT'S why journalists should be licensed," or, "Have any of our editors even READ a book?"

He abhorred the superficial and the trendy. He hated formulas and focus groups. "People who don't like to read are taking direction from people who can't read," he said recently.

Terry's outbursts--and what he jokingly referred to as his "sunny Germanic disposition"--could scare people off and frustrate his superiors. But those who got close to him knew that Terry was a softie. He teared up at movies and cried through books such as The Lovely Bones.

"Terry would rage and bemoan," noted Mi-Ai Parrish, "but he just wanted things to be good, to be fair and for the Packers to live up to our expectations."

David Carr put it another way: "There was so much goodness and decency in this guy's heart that it was easy to miss the fact that he was a hugely talented reporter, editor and writer. He taught me how to do real stories that stayed written and did hundreds of his own the same way."

Terry loved Kelli May, and we knew she truly was the future Mrs. Terry G. Fiedler. Kelli and Terry repaired the scar tissue on each others' hearts. Both were happier than they ever thought they could be again.

Terry liked to refer to himself as an emotionally impaired German bachelor farmer. But every morning, on his way to work, he called Kelli and sang a song he'd composed on the spot. Different lyrics every time, but the same warbly, slightly off-key tune.

A couple of days before he died, Terry talked to friends about the possibility of cutting back to part-time in order do other writing outside the newspaper. He and Kelli discussed selling his home so he could have financial cushion. Maybe he'd even make enough on the house to be able to quit and become a freelance writer.

But before he'd move in with her, Terry said he needed to get Kelli an engagement ring. They were planning to go shopping the day he died.

"I'll never leave you," he told Kelli recently.

As it turns out, that decision wasn't his.

Last week, Terry bought some food and a bottle of champagne to celebrate their engagement. He cleaned his Mustang for the shopping trip.

Saturday morning, he was reading a novel by Cormac McCarthy in bed. He kissed Kelli on the forehead, told her he loved her and that she was beautiful.

As always, he chose the right words. And then he died.

It's a tragic story, but it's a beautiful one, too. Much like his favorite novel, Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, it doesn't end like you want it to, but how it has to.

You might say Terry lived his life for this moment, right now, right here. The one story that really matters. The eulogy.

Terry used to say, "when it's my time to go, I hope it's a big boomer that just takes me out right away."

He got what he wanted, but far, far earlier than he deserved.

When that day came, he noted, nothing else would matter, not the big jobs, the big house or the title, unless you had the love and respect of your friends and family.

That's probably what Terry would remind you of if he could be here today. He'd also put a big paw on your shoulder, tell you to quit crying, pour yourself a drink, and have some fun.

Then he'd say, "God, wouldn't it be great to see a monkey on a dog right now?"

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