Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author, and journalism professor Alex Tizon died in his sleep a couple of nights ago at 58, no apparent precursors anyone was aware of. You know how that happens, young and by surprise. Chief candidates are aneurysm, stroke, myocardial infarction—the surprise killers. He was 58, showing zero signs; lean and vibrant health.
So this was the crappy news I got about this time yesterday.
Alex Tizon was the older bother of my close friend Ling Tizon Quillen during my time at Oregon State U, now my old friend, thanks to what’s good about Facebook—reconnecting with cool people after decades.
It’s a shame that it takes sudden and unexpected events like this to reflect on what impact a person had on your life.
While I was not a close friend of Alex, I did see him quite often when I visited the family home in Salem, OR, with Ling. As a lily white boy who grew up in Reno, NV, the Tizon’s were the first “ethnic” family I had an exchange with and it was a kick. Alex was a complete clown with his sisters, his mom, and his ‘aunt-mom-Lola’ who had immigrated with them from the Philippines in the mid 60’s and took care of the whole family, including the wonderful, fresh, homemade filipino food on offer every single visit.
Often, he and his sisters would do a bit of “Taglish’—Tagalog words interspersed with English, accent and all. And they all mimicked Lola with love and levity, because Lola had her permanent accent.
But Alex also had his very serious side. I recall one time, Ling and I went down to visit him in Eugene where he’d done his bachelor degree and I believe was undertaking graduate work. He was moving into a room and I noticed the relative austerity of it. He was serious and while I can’t recall specifics of the conversation, he listened intently to me and offered thoughts and questions back. And I saw him unpacking his books and while I recall no titles, it was evident that he had an intellectual and deeply curious side to him and so, it’s the first time I recall realizing that it can be cool to be intellectual.
It’s now particularly fortunate that I was able to see and chat with him in person a few years back, after 30 years. He was in the area on his book tour for “Big Little Man,” and I went to his reading and signing. It’s a cool and unique book. What he inscribed is private, but I’ll certainly treasure that signed copy.
…Perhaps it was this overall experience that eventually led to me marrying into an extended, loving Hispanic family. I was telling Beatrice last night that over the years, it was always amusing and touching both, how Ling’s family group photos posted to FB looked a lot like the ones Bea and her family post.
“Are you saying we all look alike?”
“No, but the love does.”
My heart is with my old friend Ling and her sister Maria, for their grave, sudden loss, and their loving family.
Update: A very good read in The Seattle Times, where Alex spent 17 years.
“Mr. Tizon was known for deeply reported, philosopher-type pieces that are becoming rarer in today’s fast-paced media cycle.”
I think it resonates well with what I identified about his unique character, above, when he was a young man.