September-October 2014 | SO LONG, MY FRIEND




Written By: Jonathan Westman | Photographer: Grant L. Gursky

Isn’t it funny how we take time for granted? It’s precious, and moments unfilled are forever wasted. The sudden passing of someone close instantly reminds us of that. Ironic, isn’t it, how time stands eerily still in those immediately suffocating moments after receiving that unimaginable news. This happened to so many after learning of Matt Haley’s tragic passing on August 19th… including me.

Tens of thousands of people read our July-August cover story, in which we celebrated Matt’s remarkable life and incredible charitable accomplishments, ones that propelled him to national recognition this spring. Only a relative handful of people knew that Matt was simultaneously battling an aggressive reoccurrence of cancer. We were working together on that story too, by filming his radiation treatments and working closely with his medical team at Beebe Healthcare and The Tunnel Cancer Center. Faced with a prognosis that gave him about six months to live, Matt welcomed each new day with the courage and conviction of a man who knew he was going to beat a disease doctors said would most likely kill him. And he did. In an August 5th text message Matt said, “Doctor reported that my cancer is now undetectable!!! They told me it was 80% chance it wouldn’t work. I never saw it that way. Thank you all for your support.”

I’ve never been so relieved to prematurely end an assignment.

Two days later, we would spend our final morning together over coffee at The Pottery Place in Fenwick. It was filled with laughs, stories and a mutual understanding that our futures shone brighter than ever. Matt was looking forward to his upcoming trip to India, and for the first time in years, looking even more forward to coming back following its conclusion.

I remember being in the audience, watching him onstage during the James Beard awards. I was captivated by how he owned the moment — his moment. All the while, knowing he was dying. How could he consistently be in the moment — your moment — and give you all that he had to give no matter how his moments were consumed? Friendship. Advice. Constructive criticism. Humility. Hugs. He offered them all during our moments together.

During our third cup of coffee, Matt told me how he’d found love. He was complete — finally achieving a lifelong search for happiness in his personal and professional lives. And it showed. His love for Michelle Freeman was deep, and his aspirations for their life together truly excited him. 

I also asked him questions that I never had before: “What’s your faith, Matt? What do you believe in?” He said, “I believe in being a good person here on earth, and if there’s an afterlife, then maybe I’ve accumulated just enough good karma to outweigh all the crap in my past to enjoy what’s on the other side. If people would live their lives like this is the only chance we get, and all is not forgiven when you die, the world will be a much better place.”

Rest in peace, Matt. You truly deserve it, my friend.


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