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Warren Elly was my Wednesday angel

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The world is down one great storyteller.

Warren Elly, a reporter for Fox 13 for nearly 30 years, passed away Monday morning after a tough battle with a rare cancer. He was only 64.

Warren chronicled his battle with cancer that began late last year in a blog called The Way Forward. From his initial diagnosis of the very rare Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma until the week before his death, Warren remained positive. His attitude soared despite the knowledge that this type of cancer affects only two people in a million.

It’s almost as rare as Warren himself.

He began his blog in December, constantly thanking his friends and loved ones for lending a hand. He never stopped reminding those who cared that he would continue fighting.

He choked down pill after pill. He listened to his wife, Lona, whom he reminded the world over how much he loved.

He bragged about his children and grandchildren and counted his blessings. He smiled for photos even as poison was flooding his veins in a vain attempt to ward off the cancer.

Warren finally gave up on the chemo after the side effects proved to be far greater than the benefits. But even in that decision, giving up was nowhere near what he did. He grasped on to every moment. He continued counting his blessings.

Now I, as many whose lives have been touched by Warren, am counting mine. I have him to thank for that.

When I first met Warren, it was in the Starbucks on Kennedy and Westshore on a Saturday. He had taken time away from his family and countless social obligations to meet with me and critique my work.

I was new to this crazy world of journalism and even newer to the crazy land of broadcast. Warren loved WMNF and all it stood for – radio by the people, for the people and a voice for the voiceless. He loved saying those words in his uber-suave Warren voice. I was a part of WMNF and he wanted to make me better for the station he so loved.

He sat with me for more than an hour that day. He had printed, in rather large font I remember noticing, tips on how to improve my voice, how to ask better questions and how to produce a package that didn’t sound like everything else on the radio.

After that meeting, I produced my radio packages with a sort of “what would Warren do” mentality. It made me better.

But he didn’t stop there. He continued to follow up with me. He’d listen to my work and critique it – always careful to mix some good in with the bad. He listened to me vent when I was frustrated by limitations. He quickly became my journalistic hero.

Months later Warren joined us at WMNF to host a 30-minute call-in called the Last Call. I hosted on Friday, he on Wednesday. The feeling I got knowing I was sharing the airwaves with someone as accomplished as Warren gave me goose bumps.

I quickly began to look forward to Wednesday afternoons when Warren would show up, coffee in hand. He was usually wearing a predictable Florida-style button down with casual flip-flops and a smile that could light up a room.

Every Wednesday I got a hug.

Then I suffered a loss. My own fiancée passed away suddenly and Warren was a rock. He was a beacon of light in my workweek like no other. For those few short minutes each week, life wasn’t so bad because he lifted me with his warmth.

As the weeks turned into months my weekly meetings with him became gab sessions about my newly found independence. He took so much interest in things few others seemed to notice.

He was my angel on Wednesdays. Now he is an angel everyday.

I can only imagine the other stories out there from people who have experienced his life and love. Knowing Warren as little as I do, I know they have to be numerous.

The world is a little dimmer without him, but somehow, in Warren’s spirit, those of us who will miss him will carry on.

He would want nothing more than for his life to have given us all just a little more pause to love our children, spouses, significant others, friends and family – a few extra moments to enjoy a sunset or, and especially, an Opening Day Rays victory (they’re only down by 3, it can still happen.)

Good-bye, Warren. May you be in a place where you can hear the words, “Play Ball!” whenever you want.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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