My Ode to Joe

Joe Metzger’s death last week, at age 50, hit me hard. Disease and death touch everyone’s life, of course; sometimes, they touch an industry, such as printing and mailing, which Joe held dear and near to his heart. People passing on in their 50s is particularly disturbing, and we’ve had a bad string of such occurrences over the past 30 months or so.

First, in late November 2012, Mark Bonacorso, president of public relations/marketing firm MediaINK, died of apparent heart attack at age 55. Then the following January, longtime Printing Impressions technology editor Mark Smith passed away from complications stemming from a six-month bout with cancer. He was only 51. And now Joe Metzger, who had just celebrated the big 5-0 in February. He found out he had colon cancer in November 2011. A year earlier, Steve Reynolds, a senior analyst at Lyra Research, lost his Stage 4 battle with the same disease.

I first corresponded with Joe Metzger over the phone eight years ago, when I was senior editor at Graphic Arts Monthly. I was researching a story on printers that mail. TJ Metzgers, his family’s firm, is a leader in that area. (This was back when the Mailing & Fulfillment Services Association was still around, before all the changes.) We actually a few years later in Chicago at a GRAPH EXPO show, hit it off even more in person, and developed an ongoing, professional friendship.

I last saw Joe at GRAPH EXPO 12. We chatted, got caught up a bit, and I asked him for his business card (again). When I got home from the show, I was going through the cards I’d collected, an annual practice, and noticed a new title under Metzger’s name: “Cancer Fighter,” it read.

Sitting alone in my office, I was taken aback. He hadn’t mentioned anything about being sick; but then, why would he? A day later, I collected myself, composed my thoughts, picked up the phone, and dialed his number. Affable as always, he greeted me warmly. “I noticed on your business card, Joe…,” I began. “Oh that,” he cut me off. “Yeah, thanks for asking.”

I had no idea, Joe, hadn’t heard, I continued. I just want you to know that you’re in my thoughts and I’ll keep you in my prayers. “I appreciate that, Mark,” was his sincere response. That would be the last time I would hear his voice. I found out later that he had been a survivor of a different type of cancer for more than 20 years. Joe hadn’t mentioned that, either. He was positive, upbeat, and optimistic: always.

A Good Joe

I’m rambling in this column, I know. I guess that’s what can happen when moroseness blindsides the creative process. (A college friend and teammate of mine was recently hospitalized as well, while another industry friend is recovering from a stroke last year; a third continues the good fight against cancer, which seems to be under control, thank God; a fourth was lucky to survive a heart attack in mid-2013. All are in their 50s.) I’m not even sure why I’m writing about this, other than to honor his life that was, of course. Maybe it’s therapeutic for me, this ode to Joe. The end of Bruce Springsteen’s ballad “Blood Brothers” keeps playing in my head:

I don’t even know why, I don't know why I made this call
Or if any of this matters, anymore, after all.
But the stars are burnin’ bright, like some mystery uncovered.
I'll keep movin’ through the dark, with you in my heart,
My blood brother.

They say bad things happen in threes, but Joe Metzger's passing makes at least four premature, industry deaths in the past four years. Let’s hope Joe’s early, untimely death is printing’s last for a while. These four men each still had so much to give, yet we are left to carry on without them now. Press on.

To honor Joe’s memory, his family encourages friends to consider a donation to the Toledo CYO/Joe Metzger Memorial, 1933 Spielbusch Ave. Toledo, OH 43604. This fund will support charitable activities important to youth athletics in Toledo.