"You are Paul Ogden, aren't you?" he asked.
Now, as the CCB is the location of many pan-handlers and those seeking free legal advice, attorneys
are called upon to make a quick judgment on anyone who accosts them in and around the building. The man's clothing didn't suggest he was bumming for money and his closely cropped beard indicated he was engaging in regular hygiene. Because of that, and the fact he knew my name, I answered "Yes."
Because of my frustration with the continued broken promises of Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, I had turned to blogging in August of that year. I needed an outlet. Writing letters to the editor was no longer satisfactory. Neither were private emails or on-line comments to articles. My interest turned to the relatively new medium of blogging. The gold standard for political blogs was Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana. Gary, like me, was an independent-minded Republican who believed so-called conservatives who betray their campaign promises should be called out on that betrayal. Gary often posted several articles a day, many of which included extensive research and original material. While I knew I could never match the time and energy Gary put into blogging, my hope was to emulate to a degree his approach.
From that point forward, Gary and I communicated on a fairly regular basis, chiefly via email. We had a lot in common. Besides our shared political philosophy, we were both had worked extensively in government, including in the state legislature, he Illinois and me Indiana. We were both two middle aged attorneys who had grown dissatisfied with the limited opportunities provided by the profession.
In addition to emails, Gary and I appeared at numerous political events, often as part of a panel discussion. Having Gary on the panel meant my opportunities to speak would be limited. Gary loved to talk. He had this way of speaking in which he would take a breath in the middle of a sentence instead of at its completion, a technique that made it very difficult to take the floor from him. But while Gary loved to talk, he did not ramble. He had an astonishing encyclopedic knowledge of politics, government, and history. He would talk in detail about things that happened in Indianapolis 50 years ago, as if he were there and witnessed the event. It always fascinated me how he could retain such incredibly detailed knowledge when I struggle to figure out where I left my car keys.
Probably my best memories of Gary were meeting with him and others for a beer after attending political events together. Gary was always at the center of the conversation, dominating the discussion with his exhaustive knowledge on every subject the group happened to be talking about. I wish those who talked poorly of Gary would have had a beer with him. Gary's caustic prose often belied what a gracious, tolerant person he actually was when he stepped away from blogging.
But what Gary will be known best for is that blogging. He had, I think unquestionably, the best read political blog in the state. Every day, and often several times in a day, people would check in to see what Gary had written. Politicians looking to see if their name was mentioned and media types hustling for stories, all had Advance Indiana bookmarked. Over a blogging career spanning nearly 11 years, Welsh published 9,718 articles. When he began in 2005, most of Gary's stories were pro-LGBT rights, anti-religion, but traditional conservative on most other issues. Welch's posts in more recent years suggest he became disenchanted with the LGBT movement and more tolerant(my description not his) of religion.
Where Welch really made his mark blogging though was outing political corruption and wrongdoing. Welch was particularly critical of Indianapolis pay-to-play political culture which dominates local politics, regardless of which party controls the Mayor's Office or the Council. One cannot begin to summarize all the schemes that Welch uncovered and published on his blog. Gary also loved to discuss conspiracies. While that no doubt expanded his blogging audience, it detracted from his more serious reporting of local, state and national events. But since Gary's inside information was so often right on his traditional stories, you were always left wondering if there might be something to the conspiracies Gary reported.
I do not know the demons that caused Gary to decide to end his life. I know Gary was deeply dissatisfied with the practice of law. Having saw Gary in action as an attorney, I can confirm he was a brilliant litigator, one of the best I have ever seen. But, as I have mentioned in other forums, being a good attorney is not enough for financial success or professional satisfaction. You have to be given the right opportunity. Law firms are simply not interested in hiring older, experienced attorneys unless they can be a rainmaker, i.e. bring big corporate clients to the firm. That you are a good attorney with extensive knowledge of the law and experience in the courtroom, means absolutely nothing to them. I know too Gary had tried to escape the law but found the doors to non-law jobs closed. It is a phenomenon law schools do not tell you about - your legal degree and accompanying experience as an attorney may make you better able to do a particular non-legal job, but you will never get that job because the employer will view you as being overqualified.
Gary was also frustrated with his blogging. Gary spent several hours a day blogging, maybe as many as 6-7 hours. Every day he would review various news sources, and conduct investigations. Gary complained that he received little compensation for his work. Occasionally readers would donate, but that was a rarity. Gary's blog had advertising, but the compensation from those ads was undoubtedly minimal.
Gary's chief complaint about blogging though was not the lack of compensation, but his belief nobody cared about the things he reported and what he wrote did not change policies. Gary was also a target for personal attacks for reporting things some in power did not want reported took its toll. Gary had a surprisingly thin skin for someone so willing to confront the misdeeds of powerful people, regardless of whether they are wearing a Democrat or Republican jersey.
On the latter, I told Gary that if we bloggers are going to stick our heads out of the foxhole, we need to expect they will shoot at us. And as far as the personal attacks, they only do that when they know you are afraid your message is getting out.
On the former, Gary could not be any more wrong. Gary's writing did make a difference. His columns inspired media investigations, exposed wrongdoing, changed policies and held public officials accountable. The problem with Gary was the measuring stick he used to judge his success. If there was not immediate and complete change in response to one of his columns, Gary considered himself and his efforts a failure. Public policy reform simply does not change that easily. Often you have to pound on the door of reform for a long time before it is opened.
I wish Gary were around today to see what I have seen during the last 24 hours. Maybe he would have changed his mind about his importance. He touched so many lives. His columns were daily reading material for thousands of people. The accolades for what he did - the invaluable service he provided - cross party and ideological lines. Even people Gary skewered in his columns praise him for what he did for this community. Gary was loved and admired so much more than he ever could grasp. If he understood that, I doubt he would have taken his life.
You will be so missed, Gary. May you rest in peace.