He gave me one of his books out of the back of his car in the parking lot. That is the significant early memory I have of Mike Hicks. I don’t recall who said hello first or if we met inside or outside. What I remember is the love he showed me and how freely he gave his time and his book. As an author I know the cost of printing a physical book as well as all the effort invested before the printing stage. I read that book cover to cover. It told some interesting stories of one mans life.
I heard some of those stories again at a service celebrating his life this past week. For a man who travelled so much and touched so many lives I was surprised how few people were there. I can only imagine in the weeks and months ahead some he connected with over the years will find out he is no longer with us.
Despite the double digit increase in deaths this year it was only the second service I attended. The other one mid way through the year was a lot closer to home even though he lived further away. I wrote about it back then but it never got published, so before this year ends here it is.
If I’d met Mark Tronson earlier in life I believe my life would have been fuller for it. When we did finally meet it could have been a short lived association but it ended up leading to a friendship of many years.
I saw a call out for Christian writers advertised somewhere online and I submitted my application. Ironically I’d read the call out for writers writing for 18-31 year olds it was actually an ad for writers aged 18-31. Before either of us realised that error I was entrenched in the Press Service International (PSI) Family.
It was an honour to be writing for them in 2019 when they were awarded the annual Gutenberg Award by The Australian Religious Press Association for overall excellence in religious communication.
To be named as the 2020 Press Services International Tronson Senior Writers Award Winner for Australia was a surprise. My grades in school could not have predicted that. But my dedication to the craft of writing and the greater mission of restoring God as the centre of the nation had been recognised. That the award was named after the driving force behind PSI made it even more special.
I’m going to miss seeing the emails from Mark saying “Neville – your article on Christian Today Most Popular list – well done” and sometimes a day or two later “Neville – your article remains on Christian Today Most Popular list – well done”. I always smiled at those emails. All the text was in the subject line while the text of the email was left blank. I couldn’t read the text fully on my phone, it wouldn’t display that much of the subject line of an email. But I got used to Mark doing things his way. They weren’t always the way others may have done them but he got the job done.
More recently I teared up reading one of Mark’s emails when there was a discussion among some of the editors about revising the guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable to write for PSI. When discussing controversial topics he stated “we can and should address such subjects without fear or favour – I read with much interest Neville’s articles as he is not afraid of this – he has the advantage of having worked in journalism in both secular media and Christian media”.
I never wrote an article in an attempt to get it rejected but knew by writing guided by rule of thumb that if it was the last article I ever wrote, it better be the best I can write and the most wisely chosen subject, And by writing an article like that I would also be pushing the boundaries that could lead to it being censored.
Having worked for years covering sport from Batemans Bay to the border for 2EC and Power FM I loved learning of Marks involvement with various sporting organisation especially in Moruya. I don’t recall our paths ever crossing during those years but I am grateful our paths eventually did cross. To provide him with beautiful calendars filled with my photography for his family each year was an honor as much as it was a professional transaction. To receive a message from him offering to give me money when I included in a regular newsy bit update that I had finally bought a fridge and freezer after living without one for a couple of years. I could have bought one sooner, I just chose not to. But it showed the heart of the man I’d grown to love.
So it’s with tears in my eyes that I write this yet I also rejoice knowing though he will be missed here, he is now rejoicing with his creator.
When someone asked me how well I knew him this past week my reply included the jokes I had shared with him about the doctors and nurses using a dart board to select the different medical diagnoses he was receiving during a recent stay in hospital. He loved jokes and the more of a dad or pastor joke it was the more it resonated with him. So in honour of Mark make sure you tell someone how much they are loved before you go to bed tonight and tell them a funny joke.
That is as I wrote it months ago. All these months later I still miss the regular interaction and banter back and forth. Both these men lived there lives sold out to God. There is no doubt about that. I owe parts of my writing journey to them each in their own unique ways. I’ve got two more blog posts planned before the year ends, watch out for them. With 2023 almost here I’m already researching for articles to help you through the new year. Thank you for making this one so memorable.