A voice to be remembered

Published 8:02 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The first column I wrote for the Washington Daily News was about the devastation of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — Puerto Rico, where I spent my high school years and where several of my friends organized a massive effort to fly supplies to people absolutely cut off from aid in the wake of that destruction.

My second column for the Washington Daily News is about another topic dear to my heart: my friend and coworker Kevin Scott Cutler, who died Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer.

If you didn’t know Kevin personally, you’ll probably recognize his name. It could be found every weekend issue of the WDN on page 1 of the B section. That spot was practically reserved for Kevin.

At one time, many years ago, he wrote full-time for the newspaper, but for as long as I knew him, he was what’s known in this business as a stringer: a freelancer ready and willing to cover stories they’re assigned.

I referred to Kevin as my “stringer-extraordinaire,” because he was always ready and willing to get out there, take photos, talk to people and be a part of what was going on. I didn’t see Kevin all that often; he was more of a voice on the phone, in an email or on a page. But when we did get together, he’d roll his eyes at me then lay on a pithy comment — he’d “been there, done that, and got out of the news profession altogether because of it.” But he never let writing go entirely, and every week he’d send me upbeat, little snippets of life here in Beaufort County. Kevin’s stories were a celebration of the people he knew and loved.

Two weeks ago, he called me from the emergency room; he was in a room waiting to see a doctor. He knew he was on a downward slide — again, he’d been there, done that, many times over the past several years. He called to make sure we had someone else to cover the Aurora Fossil Festival that weekend because he knew he wouldn’t be able to make it. That was Kevin: always looking out for others.

“While we’re on the phone … ,” I said. I told him about changes to my budget: moving forward, it would be a bit more crunched, which wouldn’t be a problem until we hit football season. Then I’d have to do some planning.

His response was, “Well, maybe it’s time for me to get out of it altogether.”

My response to his response was, “No! That is not what I’m saying! I need you, Kevin! You don’t know how much I rely on you to give me Pamlico Life every week!” I might have been a bit emphatic, but I told him I’d figure it out. We talked some more until he said, “Oh, the doctor’s here. I’ve got to go.”

He said, “Love you.” I said it back.

Now, I’m really glad those were the last words we spoke to one another.

Then there was the day, two months ago, when he dropped by the office. He wanted to talk about his role and what he could do for the paper moving forward. He said something then that I think about every day now.

On that day, it seemed as though he’d come to terms with cancer. He had his good weeks, followed by some pretty awful ones, but he always bounced back. That day he had boundless energy and was high on life. He sat across from me and told me he wanted to keep writing for the paper for as long as he was able.

“I don’t have children. … This is my legacy,” were his exact words.

Those words resonated with me, even though I think them only partially true. Kevin’s legacy extends much farther than a weekly byline in the newspaper. For one, there are countless teachers and past and present Chocowinity Primary School students who adored him as their teacher’s assistant. His Beaufort County roots were strong; he was born here, made his home here, worked here — Kevin was an ingrained part of the community, and he touched many, many people’s lives.

He also told me during that conversation that he WOULD be covering the car show in Chocowinity because of the hot air balloon rides: riding in a hot air balloon was on his bucket list, and he’d be going regardless.

He rode in the hot air balloon. It was the last story he sent me.

Twenty years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, Kevin Scott Cutler’s passion for his hometown, for the people who will have lived and died here, for fundraisers, first responders, country cooking, pageants and Christmas parades will still be here, in the archives of the Washington Daily News. His dedication to recording our community’s history, our triumphs and our celebrations is on the record forever.

I will personally be forever thankful to have not only known Kevin and laughed with him many times, but that many, many years from now, his will be one of the more vibrant voices speaking of our history to anyone who cares to listen.

Vail Stewart Rumley is the editor of the Washington Daily News.