When you’re 82, a lot of your former newsroom mates are no longer around. An email in late October told me of the death of Rex Heathcote, the first New Zealander I ever met. Because of his background, I’d like to think Rex would have given this Yank a thumbs up for using “mates” in my lead.
He was an editor in the Central Newsroom of Radio Free Europe in Munich and possessed a high voice and a quick wit. We worked many nights together, and sometimes I gave him a ride home. He frequently invited me in for a drink, and, being single, he served expensive single malt whiskeys.
After a few years, Rex began dating Helga, a German teletype operator at RFE. I would see him come back from dinner in the cafeteria and leave a candy bar by her machine. He was learning German, and I think became quite proficient.
He and Helga married and had two daughters. He retired in 1994 and in 2007 Rex took his family to New Zealand to live. Even as his health deteriorated, Rex wrote emails worth reading.
Here’s probably the last one I got from Rex, received in March:
… I am in my 87th year. A regular GOB. That's a Grumpy Old Bugger. I have moved to a quiet country town here called Carterton in the North Island of NZ. You might suppose it is named after your eminent president of the US, Jimmy Carter, who travels the world doing good deeds. Well, actually, no it isn't. We live in a big single level house surrounded by an orchard supplying a dozen different kinds of fruit.
I might look like a GOB but I am really enjoying life. I wish you the same Larry.
Helga sent me a video link to Rex’s funeral service. It’s amazing, I think, how little we know about some people we see nearly every day for years. Because of my inability to leave work at work, I suspect that most of our conversations were about the office. I did know that Dudley was his first name, but he used his middle name, Rex.
During the funeral service, I learned that Rex’s father had been shot down in the Cologne, Germany area during World War Two. I never knew that, don’t remember even a hint about it from Rex. He never disclosed the news about his dad to his German mother-in-law who had lost her own family in the war. Nor did he tell Helga and his daughters about how his father died until after the mother-in-law’s death. Helga did some research and found where Rex’s father was buried, and he visited the grave before going home to New Zealand.
Rex came up with one of my favorite lines. I always had trouble staying in any newsroom more than six or seven straight years, working at UPI three times, and both CBS News and RFE twice. Rex once told me, “I like your going-away parties. I go to every one of them.”
Another good man and fine journalist has left us.