Of all the kind words spoken about Matt Stovall and his characters on stage, one of the roles he played that Ill always remember was as master of ceremonies for the Miss Lakeside High School Pageant.
It has been my honor to serve as a judge for that pageant more than half a dozen times - how they picked me, Ill never know. Its been fun to participate, and awe-inspiring to meet such a fine group of students.
Matt was, well, Matt in those situations. His friends have talked about his great roles, but on the stage at Lakeside Matt was a tuxedo-clad impresario guiding the contestants and audience members along to a dramatic conclusion.
The real drama came after this years contest, when Matt announced his retirement from the pageant. Hed done it enough times, he said, and wanted to let someone else take over.
The pageant gig couldnt have been Matts most challenging role, by any stretch. And there are plenty of other people willing to stand on stage and ask tough questions to teen-age girls. But Matt was really good at it, and for those of us whove been lucky enough to sit in the audience, it will be hard to imagine anyone else with that microphone.
At least the Lakeside gig ended on Matts terms. His life certainly had a rough ending, little of it of scripted the way he wanted. Matt was odd man out when his radio company announced cutbacks this spring: he was first in line for a pink slip because he hadnt signed a new contract, so he lost his job with little notice. Matt was an institution in local radio, and the loss came as a nasty shock - a reminder that longevity doesnt always mean much when the corporate hatchet falls.
Then, in a classic case of kicking a man while hes down, leukemia got him. The treatments did their job too well - knocking the disease into remission, but destroying Matts immune system. A little infection, with nothing to stop it, was able to grow unchecked, ravage Matts body and bring the curtain down on his too-short life.
What a dang shame.
Matts funeral brought reminders of his love of the stage, his radio career - including a stint at WMTZ, the first radio station in Columbia County - and his encyclopedic knowledge of useless but fun trivia.
It also showcased Matts family - particularly his son Caleb, trying to be a man, but looking understandably uncomfortable in the spotlights. There isnt much worse than seeing a kid trying to chin-up tough it out, and finally having Mr. Reality just kick him in the guts. Thats a role no one wants.
God be with you, Caleb. Your Daddy got yanked off the stage a lot sooner than he deserved.
How do you give thanks with such a loss numbing your emotions? Ask anyone whos lost a family member leading up to the holidays and theyll say the same thing: You do a lot of acting to keep up appearances, and you fall apart backstage.
I expect Caleb will have to endure such feelings, like the family of Bill Brunkow, taken away a couple of weeks ago just as happy retirement loomed on the horizon; or the family of Gene Joyner, who met with a bad end on Grovetown railroad tracks last week; or the family of Arthur Clay, a newspaper co-worker who was snatched away by a heart attack and stroke at just 53. Like anyone whos lost a dear friend or relative.
Death doesnt follow a script. But in it we read our own mortality, review our roles in life, and come to understand that few of us walk off the stage when we plan to.
At least, with the Miss Lakeside Pageant, Matt got to do that. He was a class act, and no doubt received a standing ovation on the other side of the pearly gates.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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