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There's a lesson in Fezzey's death, and Paul W knew it

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

WJR-AM morning host Paul W. Smith says not to postpone reaching out to friends.

He meant to call Ron Kramer and get the big lug out to lunch.

Bill Bonds, too. Paul W. Smith even mentioned it to his wife: What do you think, honey? Lunch or dinner?

But there's always another obligation and five phone calls to return and a trip to Paris for a broadcast from the auto show, and good intentions get shuffled to the back of the line.

"It's happened so many times," says Smith, the morning host on WJR-AM (760). With Kramer, probably the best athlete ever produced by the University of Michigan. With Bonds, who would tell you he was the best news anchor ever produced anywhere.

You don't reach out — "and then boom, he's dead."

At least Smith got a chance to say goodbye to Mike Fezzey, not that either of them knew it was a final farewell. Fezzey looked great and he said he felt great, and he was living the dream until he had a fatal heart attack Friday in Florida.

Mike Fezzey was the regional president for Huntington National Bank and the former general manager at WJR. He died of a heart attack on March 27 in Florida.

It would be a stretch to say that Smith connected with Fezzey a month ago because he failed to connect with too many others. Fezzey, the regional president for Huntington National Bank and the former general manager at WJR, was a close enough friend that they spoke often.

But they hugged that day, and yes, "we would kiss each other on the cheek," Smith says, because when you love somebody, why wouldn't you?

And when you like somebody, why wouldn't you pick up the phone?

"Call 'em!" says Smith, 61, and he pounds the desktop in his studio for emphasis. "Because the next thing you know, you're going to their funeral."

UM legend Ron Kramer, at Bo Schembechler’s memorial in 2006.

Pick up the phone — now

It's a simple concept. We all know it and we're all guilty of not doing it.

You want to send along a greeting or an invitation or a compliment, but there's always tomorrow, right up until there isn't.

Wade Jessen hosted a show I particularly liked on Willie's Roadhouse, a SiriusXM radio channel. "Rear View" was part music and part history lesson, and I always meant to drop him an email to let him know I appreciated his inviting voice and his expertise.

He died of a heart attack March 5 in Nashville. Would it have changed his life any to get a fan letter from Detroit? Not for more than the few seconds it took him to read it.

Would it have hampered me in any way to send it, and would I feel better now if I had? No, and yes.

J.K. Simmons, the actor from Grosse Pointe Woods, visited the same territory in February when he accepted his Oscar for "Whiplash."

"And if I may," he said, "call your mom, everybody. I've told this [to], like, a billion people or so. Call your mom, call your dad. If you're lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call 'em.

"Don't text. Don't email. Call them on the phone. Tell 'em you love 'em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you."

Make each day count

Fezzey leaves behind a wife and three adult children, and it comforts Smith that his wife was with him in Florida for the last month and each of the kids had a buoyant visit there.

"They saw their dad contented, comfortable, on top of the world," he says.

Fezzey, 58, had hired Smith to replace the late J.P. McCarthy in 1996, bringing a Monroe native home from Philadelphia.

They bonded over that, golf, charity and any number of other things, and Fezzey bounced back so well after a heart attack eight years ago that his friends stopped worrying about it.

Then he had another.

"You get so busy, so pulled in so many directions," Smith says. You have a computer on your desk and a phone in your pocket, but "everything gets in the way."

It won't any more, at least not for him.

Tune in to WJR and you'll hear one of the hosts say this every hour:

"Make each and every day count. Each day is a gift."

The host is Smith — and he's listening.




Visitation for Mike Fezzey will be 1-8 p.m. Wednesday at A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home, 32515 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak, with a half-hour prayer service at 5:30 p.m.

Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Woodside Bible Church, 6600 Rochester Road, Troy. A reception will follow in the atrium of the Huntington Bank regional headquarters, 801 W. Big Beaver, Troy.

His family asks that any donations in his memory be made to Western Michigan Teen Challenge, 440 E. Pontaluna Road, Muskegon, MI 49444, or to Reaching Higher, 508 E. Grand River Ave, Suite No. 300B, Brighton MI 48116.