Grieving for the Rusty we knew, and didn't

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By Mary Garrison

When we joked that Rusty could make a misbehaving computer function properly by standing near it, we weren't necessarily kidding.

"Rusty magic," I called it. And I just can't believe it's lost forever.

When Rusty Kiser walked through the doors of The Anderson News more than nine years ago, his long red hair really didn't scream "ultimate technology professional." But it turned out that's exactly what he was.

Our parent company, Landmark Community Newspapers, and all the publications it encompasses have benefited from the fact that Don White, publisher of The News back in 1998, gave that 29-year-old nonconformist a chance.

You see, Rusty didn't hang around this newspaper long before he was promoted to an information-technology position at our central office. He spent interminable hours traveling to newspapers across the country, from North Carolina to New Mexico and Colorado to Florida.

Rusty loved computers. Fifteen minutes with the guy, and you knew that much. The first time he laid his fingers on a keyboard as a kid, he found his calling.

He was a natural teacher. Ever-patient, he calmly answered even the most basic questions with just the right mix of information - not over your head, but not beneath your intelligence. If he considered your inquiry remedial, you'd never have known it.

The void of technological know-how left by his death this week is companywide and communitywide, and we'll feel it for a long time.

Rusty was synonymous with technology in our minds, but it didn't define him. His intellectual curiosity covered much more ground.

He enjoyed motorcycles and spent days, weeks, months - heck, years - getting his just right. It wasn't only the go-fast he was after, though. Don't get me wrong: He definitely built it to move. But he had a specific look in mind too. His pride was obvious earlier this year when he won first place at a bike show he hadn't even planned to enter.

He wrote poems and songs, composed music, played guitar. His dad died a few years ago, and Rusty continued to feel that loss deeply.

He was one of those people who give more than lip service to the word "family." He respected and loved his mom, was fiercely protective of his little sister, and always enjoyed the company of his younger brother.

I tell you all of this, and yet, I still don't think I really knew Rusty - because he was incredibly private too. We all saw what he wanted us to see, never a speck more. I'm not sure he ever slipped, ever exposed anything beyond exactly what he intended.

And now that he's gone, I'll miss the Rusty I knew, my friend and colleague, but I'll also grieve the one none of us ever met.