Ed Zipp was dying, and he called to let me know.
I had known Ed for a dozen years, liked, and respected him.
It saddened me to get this call. What an understatement.
Ed was a bright, personable, articulate guy, and only59.
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He was diabetic, had a leg amputation years ago, and was facing the amputation of the other leg. He had elected to go off dialysis.
Ed was in a lot of pain, but he was at peace and ready to meet his Maker.
Sad as I was to get this call, I felt honored that Ed wanted to share it with me in his final days.
He told me how much I had meant to him, and I assured him the feeling was mutual.
I got to know Ed through his work with Christian Retreat, off Upper Manatee River Road in East Manatee.
Ed served as a spokesman for Christian Retreat and would often pitch story ideas to me.
His batting average was pretty good, but he had more ideas than we could use. Ed understood that we couldn't use every suggestion. Even if there were a bunch of his suggestions that didn't pan out, he remained in touch and our friend.
We had a conversation after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when I was still new to the job of East Manatee editor.
Ed learned that I had served in Vietnam, and he shared that he had been a vehement opponent of that war, operating on the radical fringe.
In light of recent attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Flight 93, I asked Ed if he had any regrets about his earlier views on the military.
He answered me directly, and then in a letter to the editor as well. Here's a bit of what he said:
"I was part of the anti-war demonstration movement of the '60s and '70s.
"Do I have any regrets? I remembered becoming a member of the Students for a Democratic Society in 1969. I remembered the demonstrations I was a part of, how we manipulated the press. I remembered being a disciple of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, two of the movement leaders. I remembered the accusations and the hatred we had for the establishment.
"Then I remembered discovering while many of the revolution's leaders were advocating overthrowing the system, they were in reality living off of the system with trust funds set up by their grandfathers. So much for 'walking the talk.'"
"Regrets? Yes. I'm part of a generation that demanded rights and freedom but without responsibility. We learned how to accuse, question authority, demonstrate, throw rocks and bombs, set fire to buildings and object to anyone who didn't agree with us. What we didn't learn was how to work with those who disagreed with us. It's easy in a society that encourages individual freedom to point out the faults, to blame others for our problems. It's something else and rewarding to become part of the solution."
Later, Ed went through an epiphany, found a new way of life, bedrock faith, and an outlook that he would be comfortable with the rest of the life.
Looking through our archives, I often see Ed's hand in our coverage of visits to the area by controversial evangelists like Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard, as well as lighter stories such as an acrobatic-drama-dance troupe, or a performance of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
Ed would also help us with the difficult stories that the people involved would probably have preferred not see the light of day.
There is also a story I found by former health writer Donna Wright 10 years ago on efforts to save Ed's remaining leg from amputation. When I saw that, I thought at least he got to keep it for another 10 years.
There were a happier moments, too. Such as in 1999, when Ed was atMcKechnie Field to see his beloved Red Sox play the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Vin Mannix reported that his daughter Bethany sang the national anthem.
"This is more than I could ever ask," Ed said. "It surpasses every birthday I've ever had."
A couple of days ago,I got another call from the Zipp home. It was Ed's wife, Debbie, leaving a message that Ed had a wonderfully peaceful passing, without any pain.
"He was a pretty cool guy, he wrote books, he recently received an honorary doctorate, he was a gospel music historian for the Jesus movement. We had a radio show for several years locally and nationally; he wrote for magazines," Debbie said.
There will be a celebration of life for Ed at 4 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Tabernacle at Christian Retreat.
"We're going to celebrate Ed Zipp," Debbie said.
Rest in peace, brother.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1