Remembering Jeff Eason; Well-Loved Journalist Loses Battle With Leukemia

Published Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 3:06 pm

By Sherrie Norris

I remember the day Jeff Eason told me he had been diagnosed with leukemia. It wasn’t something he wanted everyone to know, at first. He was private about a lot of things. He told me not to cry and get worked up about it, that he would be OK.

The months wore on; his medical appointments were filled between interviews — and few people noticed anything different. His chemo treatments were taken in stride, again penciled in among his daily duties and accepted with little ado.

His six months back to the Triangle area for what was supposed to be a life-saving bone marrow transplant? Again, faced with strength and courage. “What do you need, Jeff?” we all asked. “How can we help?” He asked for very little.

Local editor and friend to many, the late Jeff Eason was captured here much like he was often seen around the High Country, with camera in hand and a smile on his face. Photo courtesy of Leslie Eason.

He came home in the spring, welcomed at a party in his beloved Blowing Rock, surrounded by people he loved. We all hoped he would be well again, soon.

Jeff died on Saturday, June 2, soon after his admission to Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care in Hudson. He had fought a long and courageous battle. We had hoped he was going there for respite and pain relief. I had plans to visit him Tuesday morning. I had so much I wanted to say to him.

He died just five weeks past his 58th birthday. It was way too soon and has left so many of us trying to comprehend how it happened so fast; as many of his Facebook tributes resound, I too, am trying to “wrap my head around it.”

Hopefully, he knew that his life had not been in vain. Hopefully, he realized that he had made an incredible, indelible mark upon thousands of lives in the High Country and beyond. Hopefully, he knew all those things — and more — that mattered.

We worked within a few feet of each other daily for eight years, and sporadically for a number of years before that. We had a strange connection — worlds apart in many ways, but close in others.

Remembering “the good old days”

I was one month and 10 days older than Jeff. We talked often about that epic snowstorm in 1978 that delayed our high school graduations, mine from Avery, his from Watauga.

Knowing I hadn’t been out of Crossnore for more than a week at a time during my younger years, Jeff loved regaling me with his many adventures happening across the country as a young boy growing up in a military family. He spoke so proudly of his dad, Chuck, and his career in the Coast Guard that took Jeff from his birthplace in Virginia to Hawaii and several states in between. He talked a lot about some of the antics he and his brother Greg got into – and he spoke solemnly about his late mother who he dearly loved and missed. I still cherish the recipe for Ann’s Rum Cake that he shared with me.

We first met as writers for The Mountain Times, he was on staff and worked full time as entertainment editor. I was a free-lance writer who dropped in for a writer’s meeting on Thursdays, always enjoying the lunches together afterward. Jeff liked to suggest places to eat and always knew everyone therein and all around. Yes, Murphy’s, his former hangout and jobsite, was a frequent choice.

After high school graduation, Jeff went to UNC-Chapel Hill and obtained his degree in journalism in 1983 — and a lot of “experiences” along the way. Talk about a Carolina fan. He was that, for sure. And he pulled hard for those Detroit Tigers, too. Sports was just a small part of the excitement, we learned.

When I think of Jeff, it’s mostly about the writing —the young man who worked hard and eventually moved up the ladder to become editor of The Blowing Rocket. But, it’s as much, too, about his love for and deep knowledge of music and the arts, and about the High Country community, in general — the people and places and nonprofit organizations that he wrote about with such passion. No one will ever match his enthusiasm for the annual Friends of the Library Book Sale, or the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Hunger and Health Coalition, two of many events dear to his heart.

He loved beating me to the those “good stories,” and he loved being the first to know of a breaking story, or of a new business coming to town — or the latest scandal. We both had tons of friends on Facebook and trolled religiously for our next big topic of feature or office conversation and speculation. We had an unspoken competitiveness that we never really addressed, as well as a mutual admiration for each other. In all the years, we had only one misunderstanding, and it was quickly resolved.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met another person, who like, Jeff, possessed such profound knowledge and insight about so many things. He was a walking encyclopedia on many subjects.

Food for thought

He wrote his award-winning “Sweet Tea and Lemon” column; mine was “Lovin’ Spoonful.” His was more about life and experiences and observances, the good and the bad, not just about food. But, could he write about food? Did he love food? Did he love to cook? Did he love to grow herbs and vegetables? Yes, indeed! There were days when he would stop by my office and reach for a bite of whatever I might have had on my plate between me and my computer. Had anybody else tried that, it would not have been pretty. And, there were days in the deep summer when he would bring something special to share from his garden.

When we had covered-dish meals, Jeff proudly made his entrance into the office with his latest culinary creation in hand. A fruit pie, an artisanal bread of some sort or a casserole. Nothing typical, mind you. Gourmet and sometimes original. Always the unexpected – but in some ways, just like Jeff: pleasant, reliable and easy to digest.

The beat goes on

Jeff loved music. He loved to play it, listen to it, promote it and review it. As his obituary reflects, he was an accomplished musician and possessed a vast and broad knowledge of all genres of music, the arts and pop culture. He was a great supporter of local musicians and endorsed many on their climb to the top. He was a great encourager especially to his niece, Eliza, and often accompanied her during local performances, whether it be at Shooting Stars at ASU or at the Sirens on the Mountain festival at the fairgrounds. He was so proud of Eliza and loved the fact that she had discovered her musical talents at such a young age.

And no one loved Merlefest any more so than did Jeff. He literally lived for the last week in April, which always coincided with his birthday. I often told him I didn’t know of anyone else who had 75,000 people come to their birthday party every year. He attended Merlefest this year, weak and worn after his stay at Duke, but hoping for better days ahead.

Among our favorite topics was shopping at local thrift stores. Could he ever find the treasures! I’ll never forget his shock of finding some of his own CDs at Goodwill and bought back what his new wife had donated just days before. She had thought the trash bag full of “stuff” was something he no longer wanted. Wrong. Jeff liked “stuff,” and again, thinking as I do, chose to hang on to it — just in case he might need it.

He was a new man when he and Leslie reconnected, after years from first meeting, and when they were married, his feet barely touched the ground for months. I had never seen him so happy. He enjoyed her enthusiasm for life, admired her drive to succeed and remained grateful for her friendship and encouragement after their divorce. She was with him until the bitter end, driving him, along with his dad, to the hospice center, and attempting to get him comfortable before leaving for quick a bite.

They returned a short time later to find Jeff unresponsive. He did not made it past his first day at hospice.

There is no way to accurately portray Jeff Eason, a simple man in some ways, yet a complicated, diversely talented and gifted human being with a compassionate heart and an intellectual mind still craving to learn more.

Jeff possessed a deep love for the High Country, its people and the places therein. Leslie said when they decided to get married, there was never any question about where they would live.

He also loved the beach and found solace during vacation with Leslie’s family at the Outer Banks for the last 12 summers.

Tributes by the hundreds

As literally hundreds of postings on FaceBook will attest, Jeff touched the lives of and was admired and adored by countless people in the NC High Country and beyond.

As one cousin said, “Jeff exhibited dignity, humor and courage during his health struggles” — just as he had done prior to his diagnosis.

On Monday, Brian Paul Swenk with WNCW shared that the radio station, which Jeff loved, was celebrating Jeff’s life at 10 a.m. by spinning some tunes in his honor. Perhaps Swenk said it best with these words: “He understood the true meaning of what made a community thrive and be supportive. He covered the young kids starting out with their first bands with the same passion and honesty that he covered Doc Watson. He understood that they’re connected and they are both vital for what made Boone so special. If you know anyone that has ever lived in Boone, then you’ve probably heard a hundred times how special that place was/is. Jeff Eason was a huge part of that and his contribution is bigger than we’ll know.” Others, too, who worked with him in his early days of radio (WXYC in Chapel Hill) and during his stint as a TV personality with Mountain Times Television here in Boone, are among those who have shared their memories.

“We are incredibly appreciative of the respect that is being shown to Jeff and for the love and support that is being expressed to his family,” said Leslie Eason. “Jeff was a great guy who touched many lives in many different ways.”

Much comfort has been derived also, Leslie said, through others, including Penny Zamagni with the King Bees, who shared: “Hearts are breaking and loss is a somber presence all over our High Country. For those here who love music and the arts, excellent journalism, humorous perspective and community spirit, Jeffrey Scott Eason was a creative force who nourished all of these with indefatigable dedication and great passion. When Jeff committed his powerful talents to promoting the greater good, he was unstoppable. When cancer entered his life, Jeff took us on his journey, telling his story without a particle of self-pity and often with an ample seasoning of his beautiful wit and playfulness. He fought incredibly hard; he didn’t let on to despair; the soul of this gentle man shone bright with courage and love of living. Shine on Jeff; so eager for knowledge as you were in this life, you now know All. Our deepest sympathy to Jeff’s family.”

The sadness is real, the hurt is deep, but the memory of Jeff Eason will live in our hearts forever. What a joy it was to share part of his journey.

From the obituary

Jeff was preceded in death by his mother Anne Eason. He is survived by his father Chuck Eason, brother Greg Eason and wife Heidi of Triplett, niece Eliza Eason of Triplett, cousins Theresa Mosteller of Vilas, Don Langdon of Palm Beach, Fla., and Rick Ruckart of Charlotte. He is also survived by his former wife, Leslie Eason, who remained a dear friend to the end.

A celebration of life for Jeff Eason will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, June 7, in the chapel of Hampton Funeral Home in Boone. The Eason family will receive friends from 2-4 p.m. prior to the service.

Memorials may be sent to the Eason family to help with final expenses in care of Chuck Eason 485 Wes Randall Rd. Deep Gap, NC 28618.

Online condolences may be sent to the Eason family at www.hamptonfuneralnc.com.

Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.

 

 

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