Sadly and too soon, for Ernie Seneca, it is -30-Published 9:22pm Tuesday, November 13, 2012
His smile was infectious. So was his love of the outdoors and writing.
My good friend and former co-worker Ernie Seneca, 51, died Friday after several years of battling different forms of cancer. He battled cancer courageously. I know because we talked about it several times in the past several years. During those conversations, he would always ask me how my heart was doing — knowing I had heart attacks in 2004 and 2011.
Ernie and I first met when I came to the Washington Daily News in April 1986. We lived about a block from each other. Ernie regularly invited me over to sit on his second-floor balcony, help him cook a venison roast over charcoal and, of course, eat that venison roast. Ernie was an avid hunter and wildlife conservationist. Is that possible, you may ask? Yes, according to Ernie. He could explain why it is possible better than anyone I ever came across.
Several years ago, I introduced Ernie to the joys of eating fried herring at the Cypress Grill on the banks of the Roanoke River at Jamesville. You would have thought he had discovered Shangri-La. I guess exposing him to fried herring and those homemade pies there was paying him back for those venison roasts.
Before he married several years ago, Ernie would come for a weekend visit every now and then. One of those weekends, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Working in the governor’s office at that time and still retaining that newspaperman’s appetite for breaking news, Ernie asked me if he could use the Daily News’ facilities and equipment to help him do his job as a spokesman for the governor’s office. He was on call that weekend.
He need not have asked. I knew what he would need and was ready to provide it to him. As a news professional, it was thrilling to watch Ernie work the telephones, consult Gov. Mike Easley and respond to media inquiries. I could tell he missed the thrill of chasing a breaking news story.
Once a reporter, always a reporter.
Because of our friendship, I enjoyed easy access to Ernie, whatever his role with state government. He worked for the state’s agriculture, environmental, transportation and public-safety departments during his career with the state. He changed jobs several times because other departments wanted to make use of his skills and talents.
Yes, Ernie would pass on tips to me, alerting me to important events or legislation that would affect Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina.
When Ernie was with the N.C. Division of Water Quality, he would routinely alert me to fish kills in the Pamlico River and its tributaries. He gave me advance notice of the formation of the Pamlico River Rapid Response Team about 12 or so years ago. When he was with the Department of Transportation, he kept me supplied with updates on the U.S. Highway 17 bypass.
Often, he would call just to chat. He might inquire about the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and N.C. Decoy Carving Championships. He might ask about Smoke on the Water. Sometimes he’d asked what the fishing was like on the river.
Alas, I won’t be able to attend the memorial service for Ernie on Thursday. Responsibilities and circumstances at the Daily News will keep me from going. Ernie would understand.
That’s why Ernie and I were friends from the day we met — he was a newspaperman at heart.
Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News.