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Former Observer Scene Editor Jess Shaffer: ‘Living life boldly’

Jessica Shaffer | Friday, October 29, 2010

“Them’s be fighting words!”

The words slipped out of Declan’s mouth smoothly. He gave me a sly look as I shot back a glare.

We were sitting in our weekly Scene section meeting. As usual, I sat at the front of the room, doing my best to simultaneously look authoritative as section editor while also attempting to entertain a small room of distracted, tired and overworked writers on a Sunday afternoon.

Declan sat to my left. Fast at his side was his partner in crime, Shane Steinberg. The two almost always came as a duo to Scene events, ready to deliver a witty play-by-play of my meeting monologues.

Despite my glare, admittedly I adored their commentary, which kept me sane and eliminated the self-consciousness of taking oneself too seriously. Fortunately for the Scene section, the two also came with a hearty supply of fresh ideas and enthusiastic writing.

This particular verbal spar came from a disagreement about the film “(500) Days of Summer.” After some gross overstatement on my part bashing the film, Declan was bold enough to check my commentary. He, in good journalistic style, backed up his comment with a solid article in Monday’s paper.

The entire staff of The Observer appreciated Declan’s steady contributions to Scene. I most appreciated his lively spirit that fostered a distinct sense of community within the section. His willingness to be an active part of our weekly meetings may have seemed a small part of his job description at the time. In hindsight, Declan’s reliability in attending Scene meetings put a face to his vivid byline. Volunteering for article assignments that no one else wanted and his witty repartee were not included in his job description. But going beyond the call of duty, Declan set himself apart as a valuable member of the Scene family that allowed us to flourish creatively, professionally and socially.

Declan’s death has highlighted the enduring and supportive quality of the community that he helped build. Declan was an enthusiastic cheerleader to section bonding. No one can deny that he shined when rallying other Scene staffers to attend parties together. Declan, laughing and cheering, would egg us on at the annual Christmas Party as we lost yet another competition to the Sports section. Our losses could never be attributed to Declan. Eager and willing, he was a solid member of our team, who always pulled his weight.

Many have already commented on Declan’s relaxed disposition that put people readily at ease. His sense of bold humor added a distinct complement to his laid-back attitude. Declan frequently showed up to our meetings in sweats. His knit cap was almost always pulled tightly down around his head. His hair poked out and his eyes seemed bleary from what undoubtedly had been another great or, as Declan liked to put it, “epic” weekend.

I remember one month in particular that I spent hounding the Scene staff to take headshots for their bylines. I’d look over at Declan, in his sweats and hat, and feel a creeping suspicion that he’d ignore my trivial request in his busy, fun-loving life. Even when I finished my term as Scene Editor, I never got more than a shoulder shrug when I asked Declan if he’d gotten his photo yet.

Today I discovered that Declan did, in fact, take his headshot. Declan’s headshot is the photo you have seen on television and in newspapers.

When I sat down to read the coverage of Declan’s death, I felt weighed down by a heavy heart. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that his elusive headshot was the photo most frequently used to memorialize him. The story behind his headshot seemed fitting for a relaxed spirit with a wry sense of irony and humor. It seemed equally fitting that he looks young, bright and smiley in the photo.

When recalling someone’s story like Declan’s, I admittedly only have glances. Fortunately, those glances are simple yet shining peeks.

Declan beaming as the Scene team loses another competition to the Sports section at The Observer Christmas party. Declan, in his knit cap, poking fun at our weekly meetings, keeping the daily grind from becoming too mundane. Declan jovially picking an “indier-than-thou” fight with me over articles.

Declan’s bold comment of “Them’s be fighting words” often drifts through my head. Whenever I find myself in need of a pep talk, weirdly enough Declan’s crafty smile and that phrase pops into my head. With that little bit of inspiration, I feel assured that I’m on the right track, living life boldly in the eyes of someone who indiscriminately brought life to weekly meetings and Christmas parties alike.

Declan’s story, his life and his death, inspires us to live life confidently, celebrating being young and alive. With a ready embracing of life’s preciousness, we can remember Declan’s example with gratitude, laughter and a renewed sense of inspiration to seize a well-lived life.


Jess is a senior and served as the Scene Editor from March 2009 to March 2010.

Contact Jess Shaffer at [email protected]