Only the good die young.
– Billy Joel
The Rhino Times’ good friend and former coworker Daniel Markus died suddenly in his sleep last week at the age of 23.
It was so strange to hear that news because Daniel was so utterly and completely full of life. He was thrilled about everything that was happening and everything that was about to happen, especially about his wedding next month to his fiancée Michaela Johnson and the life they would spend together.
When Roy Carroll brought the Rhino Times back to life for the newspaper’s second incarnation in the fall of 2013 after a half-year hiatus, Daniel was one of the new members of the Rhino team. He was our videographer, photographer, IT guy, drone pilot, kid brother – and a thousand other things for us that couldn’t be captured by any job description no matter how long or how detailed you made it. While working here, Daniel would set up equipment, fix the routers, take pictures, shoot videos, solve problems and on and on. He did anything that needed doing.
Later, he left the Rhino for a new job: He had dreamed of working in television and, when Fox 8 had an opening and wanted to hire him, Daniel jumped at the chance. Even though officially he’d left us for Fox 8, he kept coming back to the Rhino Times office to stop in and say hello and it was funny because, though he no longer worked for us, sometimes we would put him right back to work fixing the computers or doing the other things he used to do for us.
His favorite person to talk to was Anthony Council, our creative director. They shared a love of flying drones and of all things tech, as well as other interests, and, whenever the two of them started talking, there was no stopping that conversation.
A few days before Daniel died, he stopped by the office to say hi as he frequently did. When he dropped in this time, it was a bad time for me to talk because I had a great deal of work to do. So I got up and walked over to Anthony’s desk where Daniel was standing and I just said a quick hello. My plan was to say hello real fast and then go straight back to work and let Anthony and Daniel talk up a storm as they always did.
That was my plan, anyway.
But, of course, you could never just say a quick hello to Daniel and walk away. He was smart, engaging and funny – and he always had something interesting to say, and, whenever he came in and started talking, it drew you in and you ended up standing there talking with him and joking with him until he left.
The last conversation I had with Daniel was one about his Apple watch and how well he liked it. Like me, and like Anthony, Daniel was always looking forward to the next big piece of technology – the next drone or Apple product or whatever.
On that day – the last time we saw him alive – Daniel looked great. I’d never seen him happier or more hopeful, and, given his personality, that was saying something. He was 23, young and strong with his whole life ahead of him, with a job he loved and a wedding just weeks away.
Who could ever ask for more?
Daniel’s sudden death is an unspeakable loss to the world. It was the biggest swindle of all – a death out of nowhere at a time when Daniel was looking forward to absolutely everything that lay ahead.
After Daniel left the office that day, Anthony mentioned that he still had Daniel’s wedding invitation up on his refrigerator and Anthony said he had to remember to RSVP soon.
We had no idea that that was the last time we would ever see him. It will be a very long time before that undeniable fact seems real rather than surreal.
After Daniel died, Anthony told me, “I’m going to keep that wedding invitation forever.”
I know everyone at Fox 8 thought the world of Daniel as well. His coworkers there made a wonderful tribute to him with a montage of pictures of Daniel that they ran on the 6 o’clock news. You could feel the station’s love and sorrow in that piece, with photos that ran while the song “Danny Boy” played …
Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.
Brittany Carroll, who worked for the Rhino right after it started back up in 2013, put it perfectly on her Facebook post when she wrote, after his death, “Daniel Markus was ‘the man behind the scenes’ in so many ways.”
That is exactly right.
“He did so much for so many people and never wanted praise,” Brittany continued. “I cannot count the times he saved me. Whether it was helping find footage that I was sure I erased or coming to get me when I had a low blood sugar. He was my brother. I introduced him as my brother to everyone. We loved like family and we irritated each other like family. I will miss him immensely.”
I cannot count the times he saved me either – when my computer was doing something crazy or when I thought I’d lost a ton of files or when I had to turn a story in but my computer was asking for some obscure password I didn’t know. I would text Daniel on a Saturday night even though he no longer worked for the Rhino and ask him, What’s my password for this? or, How do I get my computer to do that? He would send me the password or tell me how to fix the problem and never once did he suggest to me that he’d left the Rhino and it was time that I stopped bugging him. A lot of people would have said, “Uh, you know I don’t work there anymore,” or, “I wrote all your passwords down for you when I left – don’t tell me you lost that sheet of paper.”
Instead, he would just text me the password and ask me how I was doing.
I’ll always remember the way he could focus on a thousand things at once. I’ll never forget one time I walked by his desk and he was sitting in front of a stationary computer terminal with a MacBook open on the desk on one side, and a Windows laptop open on the other. He also had two iPads he was using to monitor something – all while also working on his iPhone. I got the camera and took a picture of him at his desk because I’d never seen anyone use so many devices all at once.
Other memories I have of him were in the Rhino Times parking lot where he tried to teach me how to fly drones. I especially remember the way he used to harass unsuspecting birds that frantically tried to escape from the drone while Daniel gave chase.
After I heard the news that he had died, I went back and looked back through the texts we had sent each other over the years.
One of the first texts he sent me was in November 2013 when I barely knew him. It was the week the movie Ender’s Game came out.
“You want to go to Ender’s Game tonight? Free tickets!” his text said.
I was a little surprised by his invitation because at that point I had just met him. I was trying to figure out how to respond when I got another text from him right on the heels of the first.
“OK, that came across as really creepy… Ender’s Game with me, Elaine and John [Hammer]… We have an extra ticket.”
I always thought it was funny that he wanted to let me know he wasn’t asking me out on a date or anything.
After Daniel went to Fox 8, it was always a nice surprise to run into him at events that we were both covering. I would get to see him and we would always joke about the fact that he had escaped the Rhino Times and made it to the much more glamorous world of television.
The Rhino Times is a very small office. When we started the new Rhino Times back in 2013, we had about 10 people. Now, two of those people are gone.
Just like that.
Just over a year ago, longtime Rhino Times Cartoonist Geof Brooks collapsed and died at his home at the age of 52.
Both Geof and Daniel died suddenly without warning. Both died way too young. Both were easy going, funny, always smiling, excited about the future, extremely interesting and self-amused in a delightful way as though they knew a secret that you didn’t – which they probably did.
Over the past year, Anthony, whose desk is very near mine, has come in some days, sat down and, out of the blue, said sadly, “I miss Geof.”
To which I usually respond, “Yeah, I miss Geof too.”
Now there’s someone else for us to miss.
When Geof died last year, I wrote: “I am not worried about my friend Geof Brooks. I think people that funny and charming, who make the world a more enjoyable place with their humor the way he did, get waived right to the front of the line when it comes to entering heaven.”
And I am not worried about my friend Daniel Markus either when it comes to getting into heaven.
In March, Daniel spent two days in Charlotte helping provide national television coverage of the passing of Billy Graham. Brittany noted that fact as she finished her Facebook post on Daniel.
“All that I can say is that it’s pretty cool that he was there for Billy Graham’s funeral and the minute he entered heaven’s gates, besides seeing his Lord and Savior, Billy was there too. I love you little brother. Save a place for me.”