It happened again this week, as it sometimes does whenever Ziva and I are working on a big story: One of us says, “Man, I wish Omer were here.”
On the most recent occasion, it was literally because we could have used his years of knowledge and experience as an electrician to help us with some details about building and electrical codes.
But often, it’s just because we want to tell him something funny or wonder what he would think about something we’re working on. When he got really excited about a story, he would say: “This is some good s–t.”
Omer Gillham died almost three years ago, but we still think about our friend and former co-worker a lot. I always tell people it’s because he literally left such giant shoes to fill. Omer was at least 6-foot-4 and towered over me (and most people).
But he was a legend among Oklahoma reporters for his investigative prowess and his ability to cut to the heart of an important story. He was a gentle soul who was kind and supportive to coworkers.
On April 20, Ziva and I found out we were Pulitzer finalists, hours after we had to quickly leave the building where we worked for so many years. The Tulsa World was where I first met Omer, back when I was a 19-year-old intern, and where I had the pleasure of working with so many great reporters over the years.
Ziva and I were in tears as we took the elevator out of the building that morning, sad to leave a newsroom that we loved as we set off on a new adventure launching The Frontier.
Less than three hours later, we were thrilled to learn we were finalists for one of journalism’s greatest honors.
So much of that afternoon is a blur, but I remember turning to Ziva at one point and saying, “God, what would Omer think about all this?”
Grief is sneaky. Among our friends, we’ve confessed to having moments where we’ve seen some tall, lanky guy walking downtown and thought for just a second: “Omer?”
But I also see him in the stories we work on, the investigations we think are too heavy or tough to push through at times. In those moments, I swear I can hear him in that Shawnee drawl, saying: “Go get ’em.”