The first time I saw him his arms were draped over his girlfriend Nancy’s shoulders from behind and he was doing a half dance into her dorm room, following some of her friends.
Nancy was an R.A., assistant new editor of our college paper, The West Georgian, a sorority girl, and Chris was in a fraternity, and they lived in a world far apart from mine.
I was a freshman Mass Comm major, very shy, socially awkward, and a typesetter for the same newspaper but hadn’t broken through to socializing with them.
Far from it.
I would eventually work my way up from typesetter to beat reporter, staff writer, assistant news editor, and editor over a four-year period. But before any of that happened, I would get to know the guy who was Chris Hays.
I was almost crying as I wrote this the day I found out about his death last year because when I learned of his death then at the age of 54 it was such a shock and the various memories came flooding back all day. Even after I finished writing this piece more came back and I had to go back and include them.
Like the Halloween Chris, Joe, the news editor, and Tray, the managing editor dressed up as “Miami Vice.”
Or the legendary parties at the apartment complexes and the ones that shut down Ann’s Pizza. We also partied with the theater group.
Then there was Snow Jam ’86. Chris was a master in a snowball fight as I witnessed on a hill by Gunn Hall, him championing those frozen bombs right at me and some others with a gleeful laugh and a victorious cheer. I can still see him running, gathering the snowy treasures, having a great time while we tried to dodge the snowballs headed our way.
Chris was such a talented writer, serving as editor of The West Georgian during my junior year when he would often say, “Percy” (my nickname), I’m going to have to edit your story” to which I would pout and take personally because my stories were so lengthy.
I remember working at the newspaper office as we’d all be trying to type in our articles on these huge, old VDTs (video display terminals) and so many time they would crash and all we could do is watch helplessly as they ate our stories like Pac-Man. We would all cuss at the top of our lungs and some of us would storm out of the office, only to come back in a minute and have to start over. Some people would hit things, throw items, go smoke, or drive off and come back. Chris manned that ship.
I can picture Chris on Tuesdays after we pulled an all-nighter, putting the paper together, then, after only getting a few hour’s sleep, dashing to the local newspaper, disk in hand to do layout and paste-up. When it was over, Chris, Joe Callahan, and Tray Baggarly would look at each other, exhausted, but enthusiastically say, “Ball game!” signifying the end.
We all had private nicknames for each other and every spring we had our own special, comical formal where we awarded each other crazy certificates.
I remember attending Chris’ college graduation party at his parents’ home and great it was. To be around him was happiness.
Chris was also kind, compassionate, loved animals, took people under his wing, had a great laugh, big personality, loved to have a good time, and made sure others were, too. He was a fantastic musician, later forming his own band. And he adored his dog, Ebony, writing much about her. He wrote a lot on Facebook about various topics and his writing was brilliant just like the old days.
What I didn’t know about him then until I reconnected with him on social media was that he came from a spiritual background and had strong beliefs that had sustained him through a difficult life after college.
He had a close relationship with his mother Barbara as well and always sang her praises on Facebook.
He was very strong, dealing with things that I had no idea he was struggling with, which came as quite a shock when I looked him up several years after college.
I’m thankful for social media because, though it has its faults, if it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have reconnected with Chris and my other college buddies years ago.
Losing Chris was a big loss for us all.