MIKE DUNNE, 1949-2009 Journalists, Mentor, Volunteer Left Us With A Lesson
By MICHAEL MANSUR
This is the first issue of the SEJournal published since the passing of Mike Dunne, our assistant editor.
Each issue, Mike would assemble "The Beat" and an "Inside Story" on some outstanding work of journalism, probing the author about why he chose to lead with this fact. Or asking why he chose to organize a story in this certain way.
Mike invented the "Inside Story." Not long after I took over as editor, Mike told me at a reception at an SEJ annual meeting that he had been thinking about ways to make the journal more howto, more useful to the daily reporter on the Ebeat. What if we did…? And the "Inside Story" was born.
Mike and I saw each other once a year at such SEJ meetings. And we used it in recent years to reinforce our mission with the journal. Be of use. Help others.
At another such annual SEJ gathering,
Mike explained, in part, where such passion was born. He was a Vietnam vet. And for decades he carried the heavy mantle of the survivor, the one who got that extra chance at making a life. He didn't want to waste it.
Mike survived by the grace of God and a bottle of rum. After basic training in Fort Polk, La., Mike got orders to go to Vietnam as an infantryman. He figured that his life was over, so he gave away his earthly possessions and got drunk.
Driving home that night in New Orleans, he hit a telephone pole. The injuries kept him three weeks in the hospital. When he finally was released back to the military, his platoon's ship had sailed for Vietnam. The Army sent him, instead, to Germany, where according to his wife, Freda, he tormented the officers much like Radar O'Reilly of TV fame.
Mike kept up with his basic training buddies from Fort Polk. By the time the war was over, Mike was the only surviving member of the platoon. All the others who went to Vietnam died in combat.
Mike told me that story to explain why he did so much. Don't waste a day. Help others, he told me.
It was clear from his packed funeral service that many saw and appreciated how much he did for others, from the Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous and his many years of reporting in Louisiana.
"He was an amazing mentor to me because his knowledge of environmental issues in Louisiana was so extensive," Advocate environment reporter Amy Wold said. "He's well known and respected nationwide. He's been a really good teacher and friend."
A founding member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, Mike was well known in Baton Rouge for his work with Boy Scouts. An Eagle Scout, Mike was an active Boy Scouts volunteer.
"Mike gave his life to Scouting and impacted tens of thousands of young people in our council area," Chuck Simmons, Scout executive, told the Advocate. Mike, as many of you know, succumbed to a long battle with cancer in July. His last "Inside Story" was an interview with the Los Angeles Times reporter who wrote the Altered Oceans series, which earlier had won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mike had twice won the Edward J. Meeman Award, Scripps-Howard Foundation's top prize for environment writing. In recent years he had completed a book with photographer Bevil Knapp on Louisiana's vanishing coastal wetlands.
At the recent annual conference in Stanford, SEJ awarded Mike with its David Stolberg award, annually given to its top volunteer. Family attended to accept on Mike's behalf.
Mike would appreciate, I'm sure, that his SEJ family honor him in one other way – remember how he lived. Don't waste that precious time we all somehow have won, by luck or persistence or smarts. Put it to good use for others.
**From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Fall 2007 issue.