By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Wayne Huff, who, with his wife Deborah, founded Athens Now in 2007, has finished his battle with cancer. The man was my friend, my brother in Christ, and my mentor in the newspaper business. He made me laugh, and occasionally made me cry. Sometimes my eyes would glaze over and my head felt like it would blow up with trying to understand the vision he had, and more than once Wayne made me wonder if I had lost my flyin’ mind by trying to publish this paper.
There are only a few folks that I can say radically changed the course of my life, and he is in the top five. I had no experience in business, let alone the newspaper business, or being an entrepreneur; and my learning curve was insanely brutal. Still, Wayne and my husband Steve believed in me, and issue by issue, edition by edition, I began to get the hang of it. Deborah was patient, as was Jonathan Hamilton, our design guy, as well as Teddy Wolcott, my web gal, and every two weeks a miracle occurred – Athens Now got put to bed, picked up from the Times Daily in Florence, and delivered.
I started to write for Wayne and Deborah in 2010, at the suggestion of Jerry Barksdale. Our first meeting was a breakfast at Cracker Barrel that went on for about 3 hours, and I am told by at least one observer who was there that our exchange seemed intense enough that it would not have been a great idea to interrupt. We challenged each other to the max, and I am sure drove we each other to our knees to “take it up” with the Home Office.
Wayne and Deborah treated me like a family member. There were the weekly viewings of “24” with Deborah commandeering the clicker and yelling at the TV. We would all laugh. There were times when I babysat Emma and Micah, whom I nicknamed Emz and Budder. Once when Steve was not able to be home for Christmas, I spent that morning in Huff-dom enjoying what was one of my most memorable holidays, ever. It snowed, the kids went nuts with their new trampoline, and it was like being on the front of a 21st century Currier and Ives card. One Thanksgiving we were all together with all five Huff kids, and Deborah cut me loose to set the table. Again, an unforgettable event.
Tough times came. Deborah’s mom was diagnosed with cancer, and they moved to Arkansas to walk her through her last journey. Wayne and Deborah’s marriage was greatly strained, nearly to the breaking point – something that is all too common with terminal illnesses. Then, the miracles began. Their marriage was restored, and the celebration was all over Facebook. Having experienced a similar miraculous restoration of our own marriage, I don’t think anyone could have been happier than Steve and I.
Then, the worst news that a family can hear came. Wayne was diagnosed with cancer. He fought hard, they all did. And though miracles did not come in the form of healing or even long term remission, what I saw develop in Wayne Earl Huff became the stuff of legends to the glory of God Almighty. There was a peace when you came in the house that was palpable. Nathan, Wayne’s oldest son from his marriage to Janet, drove from Athens to his sister Natalie’s church in Louisiana so that Wayne could give his testimony about facing down stage-4 melanoma. The Huffstah gave an altar call, and I am told that close to 75% of the people in the building came forward to do business with God.
The last time I saw him, I walked in the room and instead of greeting me with his usual “Hey, Ali girl,” he looked at me with supernaturally intense eyes that bore through me with the unmistakable color of heaven, and he said, “I am not afraid.” I replied, “I know you’re not.” Then I asked him, “Wayne Earl, what is it that YOU want?” He quickly replied, “I want to evangelize.” I smile through tears as I write this, because God had already started to answer that prayer. I have had people come up to me on the street, and I have been able to tell them this story. One nurse at Vanderbilt felt his eyes were so intense that they became what she called “Jesus eyes.” All the angst had melted away, all the unmet personal goals were let go, all had been forgiven, and I have rarely seen someone so prepared to slip into heaven. I have shed many tears of grief over the past week and a half, and I have also praised God in the highest for the messy, complicated, utterly redeemed and reconciled life of my friend, Wayne Earl Huff, my brother, the Huffstah. See you soon, dear one, and I will do my best to finish well what you and your Deborah, my Hufflette started. God rest your most precious soul.