Opinion Column

Kernels of Wisdom: Some people leave their footprints on your heart

By Rev. Eric Strachan

Stephen Uhler is seen here with his trademark smile, despite the fact he was wearing a tie, something he was not known for.

Stephen Uhler is seen here with his trademark smile, despite the fact he was wearing a tie, something he was not known for.

Footprint: The impression left by a foot or shoe on the ground or the surface.

- OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY -

It was the Austrian composer Franz Schubert who once said, “Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our heart, and we are never quite the same.” I’m writing these words today in the aftermath of the passing of Pembroke Observer reporter, Steve Uhler, while replaying in my mind the words spoken in a newspaper tribute to him by a former colleague, Marie Zettler. Said Marie in her very moving tribute, “The Upper Ottawa Valley is a better place because of the footprint you left on it.” How true!

In his nearly 27 years spent here in his journalistic career Steve more than endeared himself to the community at large, and as a result in this last week there has been a constant flow of condolences and tributes from virtually every sector of society. Unquestionably Steve left his footprint on our community, and it was a very big one, how’s about men’s size 14! Like his colleagues at The Observer, when I was informed of his death by editor Anthony Dixon I was shocked to the core, I simply couldn’t believe it. When you’re heading into your mid-70s and a 51-year-old friend is suddenly snatched from life it tends to rock you, and the heartbreaking news about Steve certainly did that to me.

Steve was born on Sept. 12, 1966 in the small Northern Ontario community of Wawa, a municipality of about 3,000 residents, a place that has been known throughout our province’s history for it’s gold mining industry. When Steve settled here in the Valley almost three decades ago we adopted more than a son from the North, for he brought with him something far more precious than gold to our area, accompanying him was a sterling character that grew and developed as the years passed. In his chosen career as his colleagues have testified, Steve was a consummate professional, performing his daily tasks as a reporter with a depth of commitment. Excellent reporting for Steve was principally defined by one word – accuracy. Testimony after testimony from those he interviewed in this community indicated overwhelmingly of how Steve always wanted to ensure that he had got the facts straight, for him the mark of excellence in reporting was journalistic integrity, and integrity demanded accuracy.

It was not only a large footprint that he left behind, it was also one he imprinted on our hearts. Whenever I think of Steve, I immediately think of his smile. In the photographs of him this newspaper has shown over this last week we saw it, that infectious, characteristic smile. I cannot think of a time when I engaged in conversation with him when that smile was absent. “A smile,” said Anthony J. Angelo, “is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart,” and Steve won his way in many of our hearts with that contagious smile.

In his engagement with our community Steve showed the caring and empathetic side of his personality. Sean Chase, his co-worker, remarked that he had an “enormous heart”, adding, “His empathy for those facing hardships, whether it be from poverty or childhood diseases, knew no bounds.” From the lips of other co-workers came similar words of affirmation. Tina Peplinskie would say to me, “I never heard him say a mean word,” while former Observer assistant editor and Laurentian Valley Reeve, Debbie Robinson would wholeheartedly agree, “I can honestly say I never heard him say a single negative thing about anyone,” adding, “and believe me in our business there’s lots of opportunity.” Such was the measure of this man we came to know as Steve Uhler.

Undoubtedly he left his footprint here in the Valley, his adopted home. It was without question a large footprint, and it’s indelible imprint has been left on all our hearts. We will never forget Steve. The mayors of both Petawawa and Pembroke, Mayor Bob Sweet and Mayor Mike LeMay paid there own respects. “He was a great guy,” said Sweet, while here in Pembroke at Tuesday night’s council meeting, in the place where Steve Uhler normally sat in the press gallery, the mayor, his council and staff had placed a framed photograph of Steve, a red bouquet of flowers, and a memo pad and pen. These items were more than a poignant reminder to all present that the career journalist who once sat there, year after year, pen in hand, was now gone.

“Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our heart,” wrote Franz Schubert, adding, “and we are never quite the same.” You left a mighty big footprint on all our hearts Steve, a footprint that time will not erase, there is no doubt about that, and it would be fair to say from all of us…that we will never be quite the same again.

P.S. To my friends at The Observer, Anthony Dixon, Tina Peplinskie, Sean Chase and Célina Ip, with the passing of Steve, the journalistic quintet has ended, and I pray that God will wrap His arms of love around each of you, and comfort you as you mourn the loss of a dear friend and colleague.

 

 



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