“Let me just say that I am a comfortable-in-my-own-skin heterosexual guy, but you are a handsome man.” Those were the first words I ever uttered to Jose Wejebe. The year was 2006, and I strolled into the ICAST breakfast reception and ended up standing directly in front of the Shimano table, where Wejebe was seated. I shook Dave Pfeiffer (president of Shimano American) and several other Shimano staffers’ hands, then Wejebe introduced himself to me by saying he read and enjoyed the magazine I edited at the time. Me, on the other hand, I wanted to know how in the hell a man who spends all day in the sun for most of the year could seemingly look better as he aged. He just smiled, chuckled.
Those memories were the first to race through my mind as I learned of Wejebe’s death. Upon hearing the news of the plane crash that took his life, I immediately looked for the news report, hoping against hope that his death was not especially tragic. Alas, I was disappointed. Untimely deaths are never easy on friends and family, particularly when they involve the violence of planes or automobiles. My mind set about with wonderment: What were his last thoughts? Where was he headed? Was he off to another fishing excursion? Was it operator error? Was it weather?
None of that mattered, and I knew it. But in an age where we are never really untethered from smart phones and computers, we want to amass as much information as possible, even if the vast majority of which is meaningful, as it was in this case. Eventually my thoughts fell to pleasant thoughts regarding Wejebe, including the first time I watched his show, Spanish Fly, how passionate he was about fishing, the legions of folks who genuinely enjoyed his show and his presence. Sadness does no one any good, least of all those who are gone.
Later that day, I started to think of the handful of times I was able to interact with Wejebe and what those interactions now mean to me. Maybe there are lessons for us all in there somewhere.
1. Sincerity is underrated. Having lived in sizeable metropolitan areas as I have over the last 15 years, I’ve met a number of “famous” people, even some in the sportfishing industry. Only a handful of those people did I come away from interacting with thinking they fit the persona I had of them from TV or magazines. Wejebe was one of that handful. I watched him numerous times interacting with folks at trade and consumer shows; I always thought he seemed genuinely appreciative of the adulation, which is no small feat in the world we now inhabit. He didn’t just take a picture and pass the person along. He lingered, and he listened. I remember thinking, after that first meeting, “He’s a good guy. I can’t believe he isn’t a pompous ass like so many other personalities.”
- Humility is a good thing. A few years back, I was standing in the Shimano booth at ICAST, talking to Pfeiffer and Wejebe, when the conversation turned to the Chairman’s Industry Awards Reception, which had taken place the night before. Pfeiffer was gently “inquiring” about Wejebe’s absence, and I could tell Wejebe was slightly uncomfortable, feeling as though he was not there to support the team, so to speak. But he never appeared defensive, saying only that he agreed with Pfeiffer and that it would not happen again. As I overheard this, I was thinking that I would have concocted some excuse to explain my whereabouts. He did not.
- It’s OK to be nice. As a kid, I always hated funerals; I still do. What I really grew to hate was how the living always puff up, in unwarranted measure, the deceased. Let’s face it, jerks die, too. What has struck me from reading comments after Wejebe’s death is that even those who did not spin in his orbit came away thinking he was a nice guy, even after just one interaction. I concur.
Whenever I think of Wejebe, I’ll forever link him to a quote I heard at a journalism conference in 1996, for I think he epitomizes the message: “In all of your interactions, strive to be interested, not interesting.”