Anniversaries of the deaths of loved ones are always hard. First anniversaries are the hardest of all.
For the family and friends of Keith Haller, who died a year ago at the age of 70 from fast-moving prostate cancer, Dec. 11 has been a day of dread.
I’m not a member of Keith’s family, and I can’t pretend to be one to have been one of his very close friends. But I was a friend and longtime admirer and sometime collaborator, and you might say I’m also a legacy.
In fact, it’s fair to call Maryland Matters one of Keith’s legacies.
Keith was one of the founders of this website, along with veteran journalist Lou Peck and me. As I recounted in a piece last year, I had been talking up the possibility of launching a website to cover Maryland government and politics for a few years. Keith was the very first person who offered to help me.
Today, there are many living tributes to Keith’s vision and all the good work he did. At Maryland Matters, we’re proud to be one of them.
Keith, for the uninitiated, was a former Capitol Hill staffer and political aide who became a pollster and communications guru, working for corporations, media outlets, politicians, and nonprofits.
Just as important, Keith was a generous volunteer of his time, wisdom, and enthusiasm, and helped a variety of worthy organizations and causes through the years. He figured Lou and I had the journalism chops to figure out how to run Maryland Matters on a day-to-day basis, but he was also there to dispense advice, cheer on our early fundraising efforts — even if his expectations seemed way too unrealistic — and lend an ear whenever we needed to work out a thorny problem.
When Keith died, his friends and admirers offered countless stories and tributes. Many of them were in the category of what I called “Keith the Statesman.”
These were richly deserved, of course, and his good works can be found all over Maryland, particularly in Montgomery County.
But what I miss most about Keith — and I expect it’s the same for most of those who loved and admired him — are the small things. Keith was always exchanging political intelligence; who wouldn’t love that? Keith knew, or seemed to know, everything that was going on. He was equally enthusiastic about state and local politics, national politics, sports, travel, and the arts.
You never really knew where a conversation with Keith would take you. He had a scholar’s appetite for information, a wealth of insights, and a boy’s enthusiasm for his favorite teams.
I miss Keith’s deep, rich voice. I miss his arch sense of humor. I miss his enthusiasm for this project — which oftentimes eclipsed my own.
I can’t pretend to know the loss his wife Stacy and son Michael are feeling as we arrive at this anniversary. I can’t pretend to know what his closest friends are feeling. On every one of these 365 days since Keith left us, I have felt for them all.
But Keith would surely not want to see an opportunity slip away, and he’d be the first to paraphrase the old labor organizer, Joe Hill — “Don’t mourn, organize.”
So here on the anniversary of Keith’s death, his closest friends, led by former congressman Michael Barnes and former state Del. Bill Bronrott, have decided to do a beautiful thing:
Working with Keith’s family, they came up with the idea of creating the Keith Haller Memorial Matching Grant to support Maryland Matters.
Barnes and Bronrott reached out to some of Keith’s friends and family, and together, raised $14,000 for the matching grant. So until Dec. 31, these funds will be used to match donations to Maryland Matters.
“Together, we can keep Keith’s legacy alive by helping to preserve top quality local journalism to keep the public informed and engaged,” Barnes and Bronrott said. “We feel sure Keith would like this plan.
“As Keith would say: Onward and Upward!”
The Keith Haller Match comes at an opportune time for Maryland Matters.
Since Nov. 1, contributions to our news site have been doubled, thanks to a generous grant from NewsMatch, a national nonprofit that supports independent news sites like Maryland Matters. Our loyal readers have responded to the call, and in a few short weeks we have raised the maximum NewsMatch amount of $20,000.
My deepest gratitude to all those who make our work possible! The new Keith fund enables us to keep the momentum going.
Last year, Keith’s death came just a few days before the annual Committee for Montgomery breakfast, a gathering of Montgomery County’s 1,000 most important personages, as Keith himself might have called them. It was the type of event Keith loved — full of politicians and businesspeople and community leaders, all happily schmoozing. (In fact, I’ve often said that the organizers of this event should skip the breakfast and the speeches and just enable people to mill around, gossiping.)
The organizers of the event last year held a moment of silence for Keith, and it was really touching.
I can’t go to an event like that now and not feel Keith’s loss — because he’d simultaneously be reveling in it and cracking wise about all the self-important people there.
This year, the Committee for Montgomery breakfast is Friday morning. The crowd will be hearing from U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) — who Keith greatly admired — and Bill Ferguson, the incoming state Senate president, and many other county leaders. Lou Peck will be leading some of the interviews onstage.
No matter what gets said, I’ll be thinking of Keith. And I’ll silently raise a glass of orange juice in his honor.