By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, Journalist, and Executive Director of Bike Florida. The Cycle Chronicler pays tribute to a long time Florida jpournalist and, biker advocate Wayne Ezell.
The last time I saw Wayne Ezell it was maybe three years ago in a Jacksonville restaurant. I was there to talk to members of the North Florida Bicycle Club about Bike Florida. Wayne and I exchanged a few quiet words and a smile or two. We had much more in common than our mutual love of cycling.
I had come to Bike Florida after 4 decades in the newspaper business and nearly 30 years as editorial page editor for The Gainesville Sun. Journalism was my life, but when I retired nearly four years ago and took this new bike touring gig I felt like I was stepping out of one dream job and into another.
Likewise, Wayne had retired after a stint as editorial writer for the Jacksonville Times-Union. Prior to that he had served in various reporter-editor capacities at the Winter Haven News Chief, the Boca Raton News, the Tallahassee Democrat and other papers. We were both Tallahassee bureau chiefs at one time or another - Wayne with Gannett's Florida newspapers, while I wrote for New York Times Florida properties.
We were both Ink stained wretches who had acquired a passion for cycling. It was like we were living parallel lives.
On Monday I learned that Wayne had gone to RAGBRAI to take part in the world's largest and best known mass cycling event. He was going to start with the traditional ritual - dipping his rear wheel in the Missouri River. I had done precisely the same thing three years ago on my RAGBRAI pilgrimage.
But Wayne never reached the river. Early Sunday morning, on his way to the Missouri, he was hit from behind by the driver of a pickup truck and killed. That day RAGBRAI would begin with a "Mile Of Silence" to remember those who have been injured and killed while cycling.
It is the ultimate irony,” RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz later told reporters. “Here we are putting together an event to remember those that have fallen, and to start off while people were probably riding the Mile of Silence, there was a cyclist struck and killed by a vehicle.”
Wayne would not get to dip his front wheel in the Mississippi at RAGBRAI's end. Those who knew him will not again enjoy his good company, quiet smile and soft-spoken mannerisms. We have not only lost an advocate who worked with his local bicycle club to help spread the Share The Road ethic and make cycling safer for everyone, but Florida has lost a talented journalist possessed of a wealth of experience, wisdom and knowledge about how things worked - and how they really ought to work - in his community and his state.
We editorial writers are an odd breed. We insist on telling people what we think about things whether they want to hear it or not...and Wayne and I we're lucky enough to get paid for it. We wrote about politics and government and issues of the day and the crisis of the moment. About...well, pretty much about life, the universe and everything.
One of his colleagues at the Times-Union this week called Wayne Ezell "the ultimate journalist" for the impact he made in his profession and on his community.
He will be missed.
Most of us who spend a lot of our time Sharing The Road on self-propelled two-wheeled legal vehicles know someone - or more likely several someones - who have been killed or seriously injured while cycling. We know it could happen to any of us at any time but we choose to continue to ride because it is in our very marrow.
Oh, we take all the precautions we can take. We are careful to ride in a responsible manner. And we try to avoid the obvious danger spots. But even so we know that life is not without risks and a cyclist's life is risky by its very nature.
All we can do is everything we can to improve the odds. And so we go to cycling events and hand out safe cycling materials. We work with our local, state and federal officials to improve road conditions, advance Complete Street designs and get tougher laws to crack down on distracted driving and to better protect vulnerable road users. Wayne will have done most of those things because he was an advocate by profession and a cyclist by choice.
I didn't know Wayne Ezell as well as I would have liked. But I knew him by reputation as a talented and capable journalist, and I came to know him to be a responsible and enthusiastic cyclist.
Those of us who choose to Share The Road despite its risks will honor his memory by continuing to be advocates for bicycle safety, safer streets and saner laws governing all users of the public roadways. That's what Wayne Ezell would have done.