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Jamie Samuelsen remembered as 'genuine and real' by loved ones

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Jamie Samuelsen was a stickler for the details, big and small and in between — and right down to when People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" issue would come out each year.

"Without fail each year, Jamie would intercept it at the mailbox, print out a picture of himself and past it on top of the body of whoever was on the cover," wife Christy McDonald said.

Jamie Samuelsen

"He'd hide it in the mail stack for me to find, with a sticky note attached.

"Won it again!"

Samuelsen, the longtime Metro Detroit sports-talk radio host who died Aug. 1 at 48, was remembered for his kindness, humor, intelligence and fierce loyalty to friends and family during a 90-minute funeral service Tuesday at Holy Name Catholic Church in Birmingham.

The service was attended by dozens of family and friends, and, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, live-streamed to an audience in the hundreds and potentially thousands from around the country, given Samuelsen's many impactful stops, in California (youth), Chicago (he attended Northwestern) and Detroit.

Samuelsen spent more than 25 years in the Detroit sports scene, on radio and TV, and in print.

"This will hurt for a long, long time, for a lot of people," Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski, Samuelsen's former co-host at 97.1 The Ticket, said during his eulogy. "And I suppose the heartbreak is the price we pay for the joy he brought.

"Eventually those pages of pain will peel away and we'll get back to telling all our favorite stories and laughing again.

"He was a wondrous soul."

Wojnowski (wearing a tie; Samuelsen would always rib him out never wearing a tie, occasionally asking if he'd wear a tie at his funeral) recounted numerous stories from his friendship with Samuelsen, which dates to when Samuelsen arrived in Detroit in 1994 and they worked together at 1130 The Fan. Many were heartbreaking, like their last visit, July 28. Many were humorous, like when Samuelsen would bring his kids to one of their shows and they'd have tomato races — peeling the tomatoes off the sub sandwiches Samuelsen had purchased, and flinging them against the glass partition to see which would win the race to the bottom.

Wojnowski and the kids would laugh and cheer till the finish.

Samuelsen, well, about that attention to detail ...

"Jamie," said Wojnowski, "was already over at the cubicle window cleaning it up."

Wojnowski and McDonald, both choking up, gave Samuelsen's eulogies, with Wojnowski sharing several of the hundreds of emails he's received — many of whom never met Samuelsen, but only knew him from the radio, "a carpool buddy for 20 years."

Wojnowski also continued Samuelsen's final cause, urging people to get colonoscopies, even before the previously recommended age of 50.

More: Wojo: Jamie Samuelsen brought out all the goodness, in radio and in life

Samuelsen was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer at age 47, in January 2019, and died at 48.

Samuelsen and McDonald's oldest daughter, Caroline, 16, read the prayers for the faithful during the traditional Catholic mass, but did a little rewrite for the ending.

"I OK'd this with Monsignor," Caroline said. "For a winning season for the Detroit Lions, the Cal Bears and the Northwestern Wildcats, for my dad, we pray to the Lord."

Samuelsen grew up in California, outside of San Francisco, before heading on to Northwestern, where he earned a degree in communications.

He joined startup WDFN The Fan in 1994, first as an update guy, then quickly became an on-air host.

Samuelsen was on air at The Fan from 1994-2007, and then The Ticket from 2012 until his death, working alongside hosts like Wojnowski, Mike Stone, Greg Brady and Gregg Henson, among others.

Since his death, the tributes have poured in, by the thousands, overwhelming Samuelsen's family. Wojnowski said he's received hundreds and texts and emails, and thousands more tweets. The tributes have come from every range, from loyal listeners to high-profile people throughout the area and even the country.

"Radio was fun for him. Who you heard was exactly who he was," McDonald said. "And he counted himself lucky in a business that was often fraught with ego and craziness. He worked hard to land where he did.

"It has been overwhelming to see and hear how much you loved him, too.

"How much he touched your life, too."

McDonald, who met Samuelsen when she was a producer at Fox 2 (she's now a reporter and anchor for Detroit's PBS affiliate), liked to call her husband "The Mayor," because he was the person everyone gravitated to at every event, whether a small family gathering, swim club or a Little League baseball game.

She said he also was the family photographer, always cherishing the moments at home, or on vacation. He loved to put together slide shows. He loved family nights, often with a game, even if it meant turning off a big sporting event. Memories mattered to Samuelsen, more than any professional achievement or stardom, the latter which he never sought.

"Our party of five that were his world," McDonald said of Caroline, Josh (14) and Catherine (11), but also not forgetting dog Tate. "His reason for being."

Samuelsen also could talk about pretty much anything, particularly baseball, but also history, politics, "even musical theater," McDonald said. "He was truly interested." He was an Eagle Scout. Each week, he'd finish the New York Times crossword.

Samuelsen first revealed publicly July 27 on the air that he had been battling colon cancer. He spoke with a shaky voice, but insisted he wasn't saying his goodbyes, though close friends suspected otherwise.

Samuelsen never wanted to go public throughout the whole ordeal — which included traveling throughout the country seeking second and third opinions, as well as chemotherapy, or "drip, drip days," as Samuelsen and Wojnowski called them — because he didn't want to be treated differently. He never did ask, "Why me?"

He also thought, at least until the very end, that he was going to beat the disease, which never did take two of his most defining characteristics: his hair or his heart.

"Genuine and real, that is the good Jamie," said Tom McDonald, Samuelsen's father-in-law, who opened the Mass, the altar lined with elegant white flowers and a small black-and-white picture of Samuelsen, as understated as he was. "He was genuine, and he was real.

"Goodness. That is how the good Jamie will be remembered."

McDonald has said the family eventually plans to hold a bigger, public celebration of Samuelsen's life at some point, and that will be complete with lots of his favorite things, including good jokes and good gimlets.

Tuesday's service was quaint in comparison, officiated by Monsignor John P. Zenz, pastor at Holy Name. Samuelsen was baptized after meeting McDonald, around the same time a young Caroline was baptized.

Samuelsen took his faith seriously.

And his priorities — often when Wojnowski would ask about grabbing a beer, or a burger, or a coffee after a show, Samuelsen usually had something else to do, and it almost always family related. But when you really needed Samuelsen — who also worked alongside Wojnowski on Fox2's "SportsWorks" Sunday night roundtable and the network's Lions pregame coverage — he was there, without fail.

"You only get a few rocks and pillars, people who make you wobble when they're gone," Wojnowski said. "That was Jamie for a lot of us, for his family, for me, the strongest rock and best friend I've ever had."

Said McDonald: "His example of kindness and goodness should be the norm, not the exception. I love you Jamie. Until we meet again."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984