I probably met Derek Weiler first at the University of Waterloo in the late-1980s, when we both studied English there and wrote for the student newspaper, Imprint. Strangely, I have no recollection of meeting him then. I knew his byline, though, and took note when I started to see it again a decade later in Quill and Quire, where he would become editor, and other places.
Weiler passed away yesterday at the age of 40. I met him a few times in the past decade and corresponded on occasion. We were Facebook "friends," but I don't have any claim to have known him. As has been universally reported upon the news of his death, Weiler was highly professional, courteous, inquisitive, sensitive, generous, articulate, interesting, well-read, funny, and skeptical. In short, just about everything one could ever ask for in a fellow human being.
Many others knew him in greater specificity, and their tributes are beginning to tell us a little bit more about this remarkable man. He had seemed to me to be a contemporary, which he was, and part of an open-ended future, which is never a sure thing for any of us. This is a hard fact that shocks us every time someone dies who shouldn't, even though we know that time will come for each of us.
Weiler apparently had been the subject of serious medical concerns for some time. Knowing this now (only learning it today), I am all the more amazed at what he was able to accomplish. By which I don't mean the volume of his work, or the position he attained, but the persistent clarity of his critical prose. I enjoyed reading his editorial and reviews and interviews for the pleasure of being walked through his thoughts. He gave good read, Weiler did.
It goes without saying that he will be missed. Those who knew him best will know most how much has now gone. The rest of us can be saddened and shocked and reminded again of the pain of loss and be befuddled by what it all means to lose someone so clearly marked as a leader and mentor. There are many socks now needing pulling up, more questions to ask and decorum to uphold. Life, in its mystery, will go on.
To the student journalists out there, at this moment I envy you. What roaring balls of fire you must be. Dig for the truth, be relentless, learn your trade inside and out. But please, in the end, don't forget how to be nice. To gain the world, you needn't lose your soul.
Derek, you've caused a sensation. I wish you were here to see it.