People that have been in the television business for more than a year can tell you about those that have helped them along the way and helped shape them in their professional style. I had many of those mentors at my first job. Jerry Trently was one of them.
Jerry was the chief photojournalist when I broke into the business as a production assistant, and later a photojournalist, at WHP, the CBS affiliate in Harrisburg, PA. Before that he was actually the station's news director. He had a wife and son, and I think he may have changed positions in order to have more time with his family, but I can't be sure.
From the first time I met Jerry, I could tell this is a guy I should pay attention to. He would be more aware of the scene around him then anybody I've ever seen. Jerry shooting video for a news story was probably the most comforting thing for our reporters, because they had to know he would come back with much more than he needed, plus all the shots would be top notch.
I remember one fall afternoon as a production assistant, working on editing video for that night's 5:00 newscast, and Jerry came down and asked me to join him and the news director in the office. He told me there was an opening for a photojournalist and they wanted me to fill it. At that time, it was the most gratifying moment of my young career.
After that, Jerry took me under his wing and was the perfect guy for a rookie to learn from. He spent countless hours showing me the ropes of shooting the news and then adding things that would make it more than basic. Phrases like "zoom with your feet" and "you can get out of anything with a tight or wide shot" were pounded into my brain. They are still phrases that I apply to my work today and that I tell our interns who are learning to shoot as well. Those that worked at WHP will remember the editing suite that was in the creative services department, where Jerry spent a good deal of time. He would dissect my work in there, trying to help me become sharper.
The other thing I remember about Jerry is his absolute love for his profession. He may not have been excited about every story he did, but he would treat them all the same. I remember shadowing him one day and hoping that I would hang on to the love and passion for the job as long as he had. His background in several areas of the newsroom really made him an excellent resource for reporters to bounce ides off of in the field, and I think he really enjoyed that.
In May of 2005, I knocked on the door of Jerry's office to ask for a moment of his time, and told him that I was offered an on-air opportunity in Virginia and that I was going to pursue. We had a short conversation, in which he told me he wish I would stick around longer, but he understood and wished me well.
Seven years ago this week in September of 2006, almost exactly two years after Jerry had called me in the news director's office to give me that promotion, he passed away after a battle with brain cancer. It left a hole at a station where he had been a constant for many years. In Harrisburg, the ABC and CBS stations are directly across the street from each other. It's my understanding that on the day of Jerry's funeral, the ABC affiliate shared all of its video with our station so that every person possible could attend the service. My last interaction with Jerry was when I sent him an e-mail shortly after I had learned of his diagnosis. He promptly wrote me back thanking me for my thoughts and prayers.
I got the idea to do a blog post on this topic after I saw a former colleague and long-time friend of Jerry's shared a Facebook post this morning. I won't pretend to have known Jerry as well as many of my fellow employees at WHP did, but I did know him well enough for him to make a positive impact on my life and in my career. Seven years after his passing and nine years after working with him, I hope I continue to honor him through the work that I do. He gave me many gifts in terms of knowledge in my profession that I continue to practice. This tribute is my small gift in return.