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His heart was as big as his voice

His deep voice was one I heard often, and when he recognized mine, I almost heard a smile in that booming voice.

"Opp Police Department," he said.

I knew immediately who it was even before he announced his name.

"Gent," he said.

By this time I was smiling too.

"Is Connie in?" I'd ask, waiting to hear if the clerk for the department was at her desk.

"I think she is," he'd answer. "Don't you want to talk to me?"

I'd laugh and pick back at him with some comment. There was a running joke between us and we both enjoyed our little encounters.

I have known Mike Gent for a long time, his wife Lynelle for even longer. Mike and I got acquainted when I worked in Opp as editor of the paper. Our friendship continued when I moved back to Andalusia as a reporter.

It was a friendship that developed over time and bumps. He was the police dispatcher and I was the nosy news person wanting to know what was going on.

One day when I was at the Opp paper, Mike and I had a phone collision, that's nicer than saying an argument.

It was press time on a Wednesday when the sirens started blasting. I turned up the scanner, knowing if it was a major wreck or fire we needed to include it in the paper. We got little information from the black box, so I called the police department. Mike answered and I asked what was happening.

The pressman was ready and waiting. The clock was ticking. If we were going to get the paper out on time, I had to get it done soon.

"Just tell me if it is a bad wreck or something minor," I said.

I heard a kind of mumble, "Can't talk to you now," and a click as he hung up.

I was not happy and let everyone know it. I even mentioned the situation to the chief the next time I saw him.

Not long after that I left the paper and took a job at the hospital where Mike's wife worked. One day he and I ended up on the same elevator. I spoke. He spoke. Then he said.

"You got real mad at me one day and you tried to get me in trouble with the chief because I was too busy to talk to you."

For a second I didn't know what he was talking about; then I remembered that Wednesday afternoon.

"I wasn't trying to get you in trouble, but I was pretty mad at you," I said.

Before the elevator doors opened, we were both laughing about the whole thing. On that day Mike and I became friends.

When I went back to work in the newspaper business, I talked to him on the phone almost daily. If I went by the station to pick up police reports and he was working, he usually came out and talked with me.

He liked to tease me and I figured out that was a good thing. If Mike liked you, you got a dose of his teasing.

Over the years he helped me out on more than one occasion. Sometimes it was telling me who to talk with to find out what I needed to know. Other times it was giving me a laugh on a day when I needed one.

When I heard that Mike died suddenly last week, my heart broke for his family, especially his wife Lynelle, who I also consider a friend.

If you were lucky enough to get to really know Mike you understood his personality and you discovered a nice man beneath his deep dispatcher voice.

His heart was as big as the voice housed inside his small frame and I'm so glad that Mike Gent was my friend.