GREENVILLE, S.C. — Television news is inherently a team sport. Reporters are nothing without their photographer partners, and the visual stories created in the field are nothing without the teams of producers who craft them into something larger — a newscast, a series, a documentary.
One of the most high-functioning and family-like teams on which I’ve played was in my early twenties, in South Carolina. It was on that team that I was first given a chance to cover politics with regularity. And South Carolina is a place that’s shaped my perspective in indescribable ways.
I moved away five years ago after a couple memory-packed years here, and hadn’t returned until yesterday.
Yesterday would have been the 40th birthday of Chris Gulfman, a talented and reliable photographer who was an even more reliable friend. His gruff exterior masked one of the kindest hearts, a heart that is still beating somewhere, in the recipient of one of Gulfman’s many organ donations after he died suddenly half a decade ago. An undiagnosed brain tumor ruptured in his brain overnight, and more quickly than we could say aneurism, he was gone.
Last night, Gulfman’s friends and family came from as far as Hong Kong to mark his 40th birthday with a benefit concert in Greenville. My old friends Michelle and Brad (who aren’t exactly folks with a lot of free time), tirelessly worked to bring the old teams together and raise money for Donate Life SC, so that more lives could be saved with the generous gift of organ donation. Stuff that happened and thoughts that flashed in my brain through the affordable vodka haze last night:
- When the band came on stage, it was entirely new to me. I hadn’t heard of it before. But when the lead singer gave a shout out to the guitarist by calling him “Rippin’ Richie,” I flipped out. Rippin Richie is the star of one of my favorite news stories I ever produced. He is a libertarian break dancer who challenged those of different political beliefs to dance-offs. Photog Little Lost Robot and I even danced with him in front of a tank one time. And there he was, on stage, playing the benefit concert for our dear friend Gulfman. This morning I looked back at a blog post I wrote about Rippin’, and saw that I mentioned his bad in the post! Everything comes full circle.
- For those of us who came back from different places, many of our stints didn’t overlap. So as part of new introductions, we’d say our names and our WYFF years. I was Elise Hu, 2004-2006, others were 1999-2005, etc. The funniest introduction was old pal and colleague Tim Waller, who remains a fantastic enterprise reporter at YFF, who said, “Tim Waller, 1920 to present.”
- The first time Gulfman and I worked together, he lectured me about transcribing sound bites properly in scripts. In my rush I would sometimes skip over a word or two because I knew the videotaped sound would air correctly, but Gulfman insisted that quotes be taken down word for word, even if the story existed on video and not on paper. To this day I’m sorta anal about proper transcriptions as a result.
- Memories of Gulfman’s funeral and all the people who came together back then to pay him tribute. A line of WYFF-marked news vehicles led the procession to the burial. Afterward, we were all about to go somewhere and share our Gulfman memories together when then-Lt. Governor Andre Bauer crashed a single-engine plane he was piloting, and instead of reminiscing I was rushed off to Cherokee County, to stand and report in the marsh and wreckage of a plane crash.
- How much has happened since I left here at age 24. Friends who were dating or engaged back then now have a baby (or in many cases, multiple babies), jobs have changed, homes have changed, but much has stayed the same. The easy warmth we had with one another back then has withstood the test of time.
I have missed this place. I’ve lived in other cities and traveled to dozens of countries since leaving, but all that has only made me appreciate and better know Greenville. As that T.S. Eliot once mused:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.