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McEntee: Despite stroke, Connie’s got her voice back

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On Sunday morning, I got an awful phone call — an old friend and fellow newshound had suffered a stroke. Connie was in the hospital and unable to speak. That’s what so frightened me, because what would the world be like without her telling everybody what’s what?

So it was with great relief that, as we arrived in her room, we heard her braying laugh. We hugged her, and she told us about the stroke, how she’d been driving and suddenly couldn’t get her car to do what she wanted, and then at least seven EMTs showed up to whisk her off to the emergency room.

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Let me tell you a little bit about Connie Coyne, who retired from The Tribune about two years ago.

She and I got acquainted over the phone, when she was a copy editor and I was an Associated Press newswoman.

Connie, in her way, taught me how to keep my temper. She’d call to advise me about all the bone-headed mistakes on the national wire, point out that whoever wrote it had to be an idiot, ask why don’t we ever check our facts and demand a correction right now.

So I’d relay her complaints to the national desk. Nothing much ever came of it, but I’d done my duty.

Connie and I finally met when I joined the Trib in 1994. She introduced herself in her gravelly voice, and it was all I could do not to mimic her. This would be a years-long struggle for me.

Over time, we got to be friends. She told me about her career at the Sun Sentinel in Broward County, Fla., and her three marriages.

I felt like I knew her mother, Teddy, although we’d never met. And her Scottish terriers, the stubborn little warts.

And she never stinted on giving me her opinions on everything from O.J. Simpson to the Miracle at Fatima, when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three Portuguese girls and given them prophecies.

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Also on politics, crime, public education, the Utah Legislature, Washington, D.C., the Challenger disaster, certain people who don’t work here anymore, books, movies, lawn sprinkler systems and the state of journalism today.

One time, Connie invited my husband and me and another couple to dinner at her home. Oh, my God, can that woman cook. She served up filet mignon and other delights, and we brought some wine. The talk, the laughter, it was just lovely.

But what really amazed me was the sheer number and variety of the kitchen appliances. Coffee pots, can openers, microwaves, crock pots, Cuisinarts, clocks, timers, slice-and-dicers, you name it — and I swear she had two of everything. I half expected to find a butter churn and a cow out back.

I told her that one day I’d like to make a photo essay of the kitchen; too bad Gourmet magazine’s out of business.

Over our 16 years here together, I came to know Connie’s heart, her generosity and compassion. She’s been sober for nearly 50 years and quit smoking, like I did, a few years ago.

I could talk to her about my family, my husband and daughter, my late mother and dad, my sisters and brothers. She’d listen without judgment. Maybe offer a little advice here and there, but nothing that made me want to punch her out.

That’s why it was such a relief to hear her laughter. She couldn’t find all her words (but she will), and as always, Connie told a great story.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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