I knew it was rewarding to work with John Higgins, the B&C Business Editor and investigative reporter without peer who died suddenly last week. That's because he pushed you to be better and tougher. I knew it was exasperating because his internal deadline for a story rarely matched my own. I knew it was fun because he had a wicked and arch sense of humor.
But what I learned from attending his funeral service, and from reading all the many tributes that have piled up like flowers at a makeshift memorial, was what a privilege it was.
I was offered a chance to move to New York several years ago. I didn't take it for many reasons, many of them good. My only regret, now, was that I did not get a chance to know Higgins better as the restaurant-prowling New Yorker with his finger on the pulse of several generations' worth of music, or hear one of his legendary phone conversations with a source who might not have been giving him the whole truth and nothing but, which more often than not Higgins already knew.
I don't like funerals for obvious reasons, but I do like them for one un-obvious reason. I learn more about the person than I knew, and in a sense learn what more I will be missing without them around. I wind up mising them more, which is the downside. But if I do miss them more, it's because I ought to, and that is information I want to have for my sake and theirs.
A friend of Higgins described him as an "onion person." That is, someone who, once you peel back one layer, has many more beneath it.
The past few days have been a process of pealing back those layers. Pearls are composed of layers, so maybe that is an even better analogy.
Our Web site has done a lot of the leg work on that better understanding of Higgins through the postings by his many friends. I recommend them highly.
Higgins seems to have been someone who is only knowable through the eyes of many people, and the aggregation of pieces akin to a puzzle, like his many small thoughfulnesses that added up to a large one. Holding the door for a lady, researching health care for a sick friend, or coming up with an itinery of best eateries for a traveling friend.
He would cook large, wonderful, meals for family or stop the car on a dime to pick up a handful of Elvis-on-velvet paintings to hand out to friends. Then there was the chocolate "Last Supper" he had made, and the Cuban coffee and the late nights of his youth, banging out copy on the local crime beat in Miami.
He loved music and people and their stories, discovering them, telling them. He was a gruff and tough and soft and sensitive and stylish and loving and loved human being.
And it was a privilege to work with him.