1980s Featured Legacies Featured Legacies Home Legacies

Eric B. English (BSJ88)

By Caitlyn French for MLive

Eric B. English died of a heart attack Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, at McLaren Bay Region Hospital. He was 54 years old.

“He loved journalism and he loved the practice of journalism, and that will be his legacy,” said John Hiner, vice president of content for MLive, who worked with English for nearly three decades.

English was born in Wyandotte, Michigan, on March 18, 1966, and graduated from Trenton High School, later attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. After he graduated from Northwestern in 1988, he was hired by The Bay City Times in Bay City, Michigan, and ran its Tawas City bureau until 2007, when he became a business reporter for the paper.

He later served as an assistant community editor for The Saginaw News and The Bay City Times from 2009 until 2012 and as a managing producer from 2012 through 2016. In 2016, he served as the news leader in MLive’s Ann Arbor News office until returning to Saginaw and Bay City in 2018.

English’s wife, Kathy English, emphasized her husband’s dedication to journalism and the variety of work he did during his career. She recalled that he once flew on a B-52 that was set to be retired and he also scored a ride with the Navy’s Blue Angels flight team.

“There’s just so much that he did and covered in news, I have notebooks and notebooks and notebooks full of his articles that he saved from day one,” Kathy English says.

Outside of work, English was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting, fishing and gardening. Kathy English refers to him as a regular Johnny Appleseed and says he really enjoyed the ‘Up North’ life.

Eric English was more than a journalist and lover of the outdoors — he was a dad through and through. His daughter, Holly, 23, says her father was quite supportive of her ideas and endeavors and that he would often ‘adopt’ her friends, who tended to call him their second dad.

“What I’ll remember most about my dad is he always gave 110% of himself to whatever he was doing, whether that be working on a story or being a dad,” Holly English says.

In 2012, the English family lost their son and brother, 10-year-old David, after a 19-month battle with a brain tumor.

Many of English’s co-workers and former colleagues recalled fond memories of his presence and dedication in the newsroom while expressing their grief over the loss.

Former Bay City Times editor Rob Clark worked side by side with English and refers to him as one of his closest friends. The two were making plans to reconnect this summer if restrictions eased from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eric was one of the smartest, most talented people and journalists that I’ve ever known,” Clark says. “This guy was a total workhorse and he knew how to manage people. He knew how to get the best stories, he could write, he could edit. He was just a phenomenal guy to have on your team, to have as a teammate.”

Clark adds, “Just an amazing person, an amazing human being gone way, way, way too soon.”

English served as a mentor for numerous reporters throughout his career. Reporter Cole Waterman reflected on the impact that English left and what it will be like moving forward.

“Simply put, I can’t yet fathom the idea of working without him, without his guiding presence. I expect I’ll feel like a ship without its rudder,” Waterman says. “He will leave an Eric-shaped void that will be impossible to fill.”

Waterman recalled his first interaction with English back in 2009, which set the stage for a long-standing camaraderie.

“I was awkwardly sitting at my newly assigned desk, nervous as hell, feeling over my head with imposter syndrome, when he walked over, shaking his head in his uniquely world-weary way,” Waterman says. “I don’t think he even introduced himself as he started talking to me, grumbling about this and that as though I’d been a longtime colleague of his. Weirdly, his brusque manner put me right at ease.”

Colleague Bernie Eng echoed similar thoughts on English’s unique but endearing mannerisms and the impact he had.

“In the years I’ve known him, Eric didn’t sugarcoat a darn thing, and he wouldn’t want me to now,” Eng says. “But I watched that cranky and cynical façade make him one of the most compassionate and caring people I’ve ever met. His love and concern for his family, coworkers, staff and the communities and people he and his staff reported about is unsurpassed. Eric truly made a difference.”

Despite MLive’s staff working at home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, English still managed to bring smiles to the faces of staff during digital meetings.

“Working from home the past few months has been hard for our MLive crew,” says Kelly Frick, senior news director for MLive. “But there wasn’t a day when Eric didn’t make all of the editors around the state laugh with a good one-liner in our morning chat. Personally, having worked closely with him for all of my career, I am struggling to imagine life without him.”

1990s Featured Legacies Featured Legacies Home Legacies

Tom Perrotta (BSJ98)

By Jason Gay for the Wall Street Journal

Our friend Tom Perrotta died Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at age 44, and if you never got a chance to meet him, all I can say is I wish you had. 

If you read this newspaper, you got to know Tom through his tennis reporting, which was smart and thorough, rich with the sort of detail you don’t notice unless you’re around the sport all the time, which Tom was. Tom was always there, which was how he got to know Roger Federer. It’s how he knew Serena Williams, too. But he also knew the many players who never cracked the top 400, as well as the parents, coaches, trainers, umpires, and all the employees behind the scenes who make the tournaments happen. Tennis has a lot more of those people than it does legends and superheroes, and every one of them was important to Tom. 

The man himself? He was aces. Tom was the Journal’s top writer at all the major tennis events, which meant that when the match ended — the moment when Federer raised his arms in triumph, or Rafael Nadal rolled to the red dirt in disbelief — it was Tom’s job to immediately render what happened and hit the send button, within a few minutes. There is pressure in that job. People can freak out. It isn’t uncommon, at a big sporting event, to see a reporter comically lose it on deadline. Tom didn’t lose it. He was unflappable, kind to colleagues and competitors, even when crunching a deadline. You could walk up to him right as a match concluded — he’d be typing away, an editor breathing down his neck, and you could ask him something unrelated, something totally unnecessary, like who won the Australian Open in 2009, and what time was the next LIRR back to Penn Station, and Tom would pause for a second, and say: I think that year was Rafa and Serena. And I’m pretty sure there’s a train at 9:33. Then click! He’d hit send on his own piece, which was always magic, a standard we aspired to. 

Here’s a little secret about what it’s like to cover one of those major tennis tournaments: It’s just as great as it sounds. It isn’t like the job doesn’t have its hassles, or bad days, but most of the time, it feels like you’re getting away with something. Tom had the fortune to come up at a time when tennis had ascended to an epic moment, surrounded by icons like Venus and Serena, Roger and Rafa, Andy and Novak. He had a front-row seat to a generation of players who will be talked about 100 years from now. Sometimes, I would catch Tom’s eye during one of those crazy matches, when the players were cramping, going back and forth like  prizefighters, and the stadium felt like it was about to lift off from all the crowd energy, and he’d give me this look that said: I can’t believe we get to do this. How lucky are we?

He got sick, diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 40, and he fought and fought, rallying that first season to make it to the U.S. Open, and then do nearly a full calendar of majors. The job got harder, which frustrated him, but what anchored him was his family: his wife, Rachel, and his two sons, Paul and Sean. They were everything to him. Over the past year, Tom often told me he was grateful for how the world had slowed down a bit, because it meant he could be at home with his family, a feeling he described in his final piece for the Journal. He was so young, and he’d been dealt a terribly unfair hand — it angered him; he confided that, too — but there were still moments he felt like a lucky guy. 

Tom Perrotta in Paris

This is how I want to remember him: This was a few years ago, in Paris, amid the French Open — he’d been through a wave of treatments, and he was feeling better, more himself, and leaving Roland Garros in the early evening, he was excited, because Rachel had flown into town. Tom picked out this place for all of us to go to dinner, not far from the Champs-Élysées, and we waited outside for a table for what seemed like hours, but we didn’t care, because it was one of those June twilights when the sun wasn’t in any kind of hurry, and more important: Rachel was here! Tom was so happy. Who could complain? A retired tennis pro walked by on the sidewalk, and Tom walked over and said a quick hello. It felt like Tom’s town, even if it wasn’t. 

We sat down to dinner, late, and the meal went on and on, with dessert, and maybe a little more dessert, because why not? No one says this sort of thing in the moment, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking: How many nights like this are we going to get? 

When we finally paid the check and stepped outside, it was dark, and it was now raining, in the dreamy way you hope it rains in Paris. I asked Tom if he thought they were going to be able to play tennis tomorrow, and he said, who knows, he’d be there. He was always there. He smiled, and then he and Rachel walked off into the rain.