Suddenly, we're minus one great newspaper man
By Mike Barnicle

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

He was a newspaper guy, a reporter, a writer. So when April 15 rolled around, the tax man never saw David Nyhan list ``journalist'' on the line alongside occupation.

     Too pretentious. Too uptown for somebody who in addition to knowing what Grange Hall in Iowa a presidential candidate should visit or which precinct in West Roxbury to monitor for insight into a council race, could also recite the stops on the Orange, Red and Green lines.

     Dave Nyhan woke up every day in love with his family, the world around him and the business of bringing people the news. He died Sunday at 64, heart attack, shoveling snow, the word ``suddenly'' arriving like a thunderbolt, shocking anyone who knew him because he inhaled his existence and appeared big enough and strong enough and argumentative enough to convince even the inevitability of death to go knock on some other door.

     He was my friend and I loved him for his energy, his loyalty, the passion he had for lost causes, damaged human beings, institutions that needed a spanking or politicians deserving of either a verbal pat on the back or a back-hander.

     Nyhan was a newspaper guy. He wrote for the Globe and viewed the tilt with the Herald as good competition, not mortal combat. He tapped out a lot of tough lines across a career covering more than three decades but never typed with malice or a mean spirit.

     And he didn't simply cover stories. He dove into them. He wasn't some disinterested observer, taking notes while taking pains to write about an event, an individual, a tragedy or a success with all the soul of an ATM.

     David Nyhan worked the way he lived; he grabbed life every day, danced with it, laughed at it, cried over it, wrestled it, wondered about it, loved it to death.

     Everything was an adventure with Nyhan and all things held the possibility of enjoyment or surprise, from a night at the ballpark in Boston to a day walking the Falls Road in Belfast. He was at the same time both curious about all around him yet certain in his beliefs. He grew up in Brookline surrounded by the absence of money but never noticed it. He went to Harvard and managed to graduate without a single affectation.

     He loved politics and even liked politicians. He worked in the newspaper business when it wasn't viewed as an occupational sin or professional outrage to be friends with someone who got their job by placing their name on a ballot so that their own neighbors could either hire or fire them on the spot.

     When Tip O'Neil died 12 years ago, Nyhan was a pallbearer. This led one of these ludicrous media writers to claim that carrying the Speaker's casket was a conflict of interest.

     ``You know what?'' Dave Nyhan said then. ``That's like a volunteer firefighter from Townsend giving tips to a ladder company from Boston.''

     He never had an ounce of the bully or the braggart in him. He represented a generation and an era in this profession that is best seen in the rear-view mirror: He had deep beliefs and deeper friendships. He shared phone numbers and advice with anyone who walked through the door into the only job he ever knew; didn't matter who they were, where they went to school or where they might be headed after a few bylines and a couple years.

     I never thought he'd die. I never thought this because the light and the life was so bright in his eyes, always. Now, with that thunderbolt word ``suddenly'' next to his name, the man is gone: David Nyhan, newspaper guy, dead at 64.