Rob Hiaasen was a supportive colleague in a profession filled with big egos.
He was a loving father who documented the emotions of childrearing in a journal he presented to his son at his college graduation. A brother and music lover who stole his siblings’ albums as a child.
And he was a beloved journalist who showed a knack for words and writing even as a young man.
Those were some of the ways family, friends and co-workers described Hiaasen at a memorial service Monday in Owings Mills.
Nearly 500 people packed under a tent at the Irvine Nature Center, chosen because Hiaasen loved nature and the outdoors. They wore shorts and casual dress because he wasn't a formal kind of guy.
Hiaasen was one of five staff members shot to death Thursday at the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis. Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, of Laurel has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.
But there was little talk about the tragic incident that took his life. Instead, people shared happy memories and funny stories of the man they called “Big Rob” for his 6-foot-5 stature and “High Step” for his basketball skills.
“That final act will not be what defines our Rob,” said Jean Suda, a longtime neighbor.
Kevin Cowherd became fast friends with Hiaasen when they sat next to each other in The Baltimore Sun newsroom. Reporters were competitive on the features desk where they both worked, but Hiaasen was always the first to compliment a story, Cowherd told the crowd.
And he was always in search of quirky tales.
“He prowled around the grittier areas of Baltimore looking for stories,” Cowherd said.
He was mischievous, mentioned sister Judy Hiaasen. He read her diary, cleaned his bowling ball with her toothbrush and stole her James Taylor albums. Yet he was still their mother’s favorite and proud of it, she said. Once, Judy greeted him at the airport with a sign that read “Mr. Special.”
Childhood friend Paul Stiff recalled him as compassionate and competitive at the same time. He was both referee and player at basketball games, playing hard and mediating disputes. A little daredevil also existed in him — he was known to drive his golf cart recklessly around curves, Stiff said.
“Things were simply better when Rob was around,” Stiff said. “Rob was my soul. He gave me my strength. He gave me my inspiration.”
The longtime journalist started as an AM radio reporter before switching to newspapers. He worked jobs in North Carolina, Petersburg, Va., and Palm Beach, Fla. He joined The Capital as an assistant editor in 2010 after leaving The Baltimore Sun. He wrote a column on Sundays.
He met his wife, Maria, when they were reporters at competing outlets, and she left the profession to teach. With all the trials and tribulations of being journalists, she said, her husband always said family came first.
Hiaasen is survived by three children: Ben, 29, a lawyer in Towson; Samantha, 27, an assistant manager of the Barnes & Noble at the Inner Harbor; and Hannah, 26, an artist who works at a furnishings store in New York.
Hiaasen and Maria celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary the week before he died. He had talked about their renewing their vows in Paris. They had plans to finally try to grow grass on their greenery-free lawn.
On Monday, their children stood on stage and expressed their love for their father. Hannah read a poem because her father loved the written word.
Ben choked up as he read an excerpt from the journal his father had given him.
“He may be gone, but he left me a perfect record of his love for me and my sisters and my family,” he said.
Samantha talked about how her father would joke during times of distress. Not feeling so good about your looks? “It doesn’t help that you’re left-handed,” he would quip. He joked because he didn’t like to see the people he loved in pain, she said.
“There will be no more 'Big Rob’ quips to take the pain away,” she said.
Maria Hiaasen knows life will change. But she also knows she will have her husband’s memories forever.
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“I may not have him incarnate, but I have him here,” she said, clutching her chest.