In Memoriam: Community Loses Respected Journalist

In Memoriam: Community Loses Respected Journalist
Tricia and Shawn Soper celebrated their 19th anniversary in December. File Photo

The greater Ocean City region lost a special community member Wednesday evening. For us at The Dispatch, we lost a beloved colleague.

Shawn J. Soper died Wednesday at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore after being initially hospitalized Saturday evening at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin with a health emergency. He was 59 years old.

Growing up in the Baltimore area, graduating from Loch Raven High School in 1981, Shawn always loved the beach resort area. He spent a lot of time in Ocean City throughout his early years, remarking it was his home away from home for many years and during the summer months. After graduating from Towson State University in 1985 with degrees in mass communication and history, Shawn moved full-time to Ocean City. He enjoyed working in the restaurant industry and made an ocean of friends who became extended family, spending many years at former Crisfield II. Later, he would open his own restaurant Sausalito’s in West Ocean City with friends.

In 2000, Shawn was hired to cover the Berlin-Worcester County beat for The Dispatch. A few years later, he would marry his love Tricia surrounded by his family and hundreds of friends. His beat would later change to Ocean City and continued up until last week.

To many, Shawn Soper was a friend, a kind-hearted guy with a great sense of humor. He had the respect of many because of his sincerity, humble ways, willingness to help anyone and compassion. He was a professional journalist who was able to navigate the minefield that is community journalism. Oftentimes, the subjects of stories are people we know well. The job often takes on difficulties and pressures unique to the industry. His goal was to simply report what happens without a slant. Shawn was able to gain respect and admiration because he was fair and accurate. He wanted to be right more than first. If he erred, which was rare, he owned it and made it right.

To me, Shawn was a valued member of my family for the last 23 years. I love the guy and am going to miss him on many levels. I valued him personally and professionally. I shared many laughs with him over the years we worked together, and I will never forget his wit, love of history and sports, local memory of significant events and places, his incredible work ethic, his commitment to this newspaper and his big heart. I have so many stories to share of the guy. We have been through a lot together personally and professionally.

On a Thursday morning in 2008, I got a call at my desk that my wife and I’s first son was to be born in Pennsylvania through our adoption journey. The timing could not have been worse for our deadline day, but I needed to roll immediately if we were to make the birth. I was rushing through with him what needed to be done to meet deadline. He stopped me, saying, “man I got this, go make your family. Don’t’ worry about a thing. I got it.” This was Shawn and his way. Nineteen months later, a similar scenario played out with the birth of my second son, again on a deadline day. He was there for me whenever I needed him. He just got it. He was all heart, driven by a desire to serve and connect. Shawn was our “Iron Man” for more than two decades. I estimate that during his 23 years with the newspaper he wrote more than 20,000 articles.

Shawn had a tough week on the health front last week. He missed some time, which rarely happened, but he still got his workload done although clearly not well. On Friday, he texted me from home, like he did often, he had seen his doctor and was getting some bloodwork done. He said he could use more space for some stories he had planned. Nothing personifies his work ethic more than the fact there are stories in the paper this week with his byline, despite incredible health issues plaguing him. He was as devoted as it gets. A part of his text I wanted to share. He wrote, “I apologize a million times over for this week. I never want to let you down. Thank you for your love and support my friend. I will be back in Monday ready to roll.” It’s so tough to read today because he didn’t make it in, but the approach defines Shawn in many ways.

At the end of Tuesday’s government meeting at City Hall, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan made mention of Shawn’s absence, which I sincerely appreciated.

“I just wanted to say one thing that has nothing to do with the meeting today, but if you look out into the audience there was somebody who’s missing today that’s always here and that’s Shawn Soper … let’s all send our thoughts and prayers to Shawn and his family, but it’s really different to look out here and not see Shawn in the audience,” he said. As I look across the way to his office, I feel it, too.

Throughout his health emergency this week, I was in contact with his wife Tricia and family members. I mentioned to Tricia about a Facebook post for prayers careful not to infringe on privacy. Once it was learned of Shawn’s ailments, the result was expected with an outpouring of sincere comments of support and love. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Shawn is an amazing guy and we are keeping him and Trish in our thoughts and prayers”
  • “Oh my goodness, he is truly one of my favorite people … praying for Shawn and Trish”
  • “Oh wow, so sorry to hear this. Shawn has touched so many of us through his written words. Wishing him the very best on his journey to recovery.”
  • “I am so sorry to hear this and will be keeping him in my thoughts. His impact on the community is immeasurable.”

When news spread of his death online, the outpouring of love and support reached overflow capacity. It’s strange in death there is comfort found in shared compassion and memories. As his official boss, I am so proud of what has been said about his ethics, morals and professionalism. I have laughed and cried reading personal reflections.

In an effort to memorialize Shawn’s contributions to this paper and the impact on the community, we are adding his name on our masthead below a forever tribute to our founding publisher. I think he would like the “Iron Man” reference as he loved all things Baltimore Orioles and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken.

As we move forward, I found comfort Thursday as we worked through our deadline with heavy hearts. We always marveled over the irony of news breaking within hours of the printed product needing to hit deadline. Shawn’s passing the night before deadline qualifies as big news worth of pivoting and adjusting. We adjusted as best as we could without him.

It’s an unimaginable feeling of shock and loss today. It’s going to be the prevailing feeling for a long time for all of us. Shawn’s death stings and it will be some time before the ache in my heart eases. I will continue to turn his light on in his office each morning for the foreseeable future as I have for the last 23 years. He will stay in my heart forever and memories will serve me well. I hope everyone else in the community and his family finds a similar peace in time. Rest in peace Shawn and I pray you realize how much you were loved and what a difference you made for this community.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.