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Cancer claims veteran editor

September 30, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Darrell Kepler, an award-winning editor at The Herald-Mail, died at his Hagerstown home Saturday after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 53.

"You couldn't not like Darrell," said his wife, Deb. "With Darrell, what you saw is what you got. He had a very refreshing, simple outlook on life that was grounded in the important things and was not cluttered with pettiness and things that don't matter in the end."

Kepler "asked very little of life," Deb said. "We're talking about a guy who owned three pairs of shoes, one suit and ties which were eventually taken over by his sons."

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Kepler valued his family above all else, his wife said.

In addition to her, he leaves behind two sons, Ben and Brian; a brother, Stuart; and his parents, Anna and Dean Kepler.

"He never swayed," Deb said. "He was a rock."

Kepler grew up in Middletown, Md., and began his more than 30-year career at The Herald-Mail in February 1971.

Herald-Mail Editor and Publisher John League expressed sentiments echoed by many of Kepler's co-workers.

"Darrell was a good journalist and a better human being," League said. "He will be missed by all of us."

Kepler started as a sports reporter and was promoted to sports editor of The Morning Herald in January 1975. His 10-year tenure in that position included a key role in helping publish the first Sunday edition of the newspaper in 1981.

Friend and former co-worker Dave C. Elliott remembered Kepler's legendary composure under pressure while running the sports desk.

"He was as cool as a cucumber. He never lost his cool, never lost his temper. I've never seen anybody work like Darrell. He was just class," Elliott said.

Kepler in January 1985 became a regional wire editor for the company's afternoon newspaper, The Daily Mail. He was in charge of laying out the front page on Jan. 28, 1986, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded - just after the press had started.

"It was the only time I ever ran into the pressroom and yelled, 'Stop the presses,' " Kepler said during an interview last year about his 30 years with the company.

He moved to the paper's circulation department in September 1993, where he was a district manager. But Kepler couldn't stay away from the newsroom, and returned as a copy editor - editing stories, writing headlines and designing newspaper pages - on New Year's Day 1995.

Managing Editor Linda Duffield worked closely with Kepler. She remembers his "lightning-fast" pace and the "beautiful front pages" he churned out on a consistent basis.

The Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association recognized Kepler for his work. Most recently, he and Herald-Mail graphic artist Ryan Harpster shared a 2000 MDDC Best of Show award for their front page design of the Nov. 8, 2000, Morning Herald, which showed President Bush giving a thumbs-up under the headline "Tossup" the day after Bush's narrow election victory.

Kepler was a talented editor, Duffield said, but above all, she remembers his gentle personality and willingness to help others.

"He was the nicest guy in the world. He never had a bad word to say about anyone or anything," Duffield said. "Every one of us on the (news) desk is going to miss him."

Kepler's fight with cancer began in September 1999, when doctors discovered and removed a tumor in his kidney, his wife said. Hopes were high for a complete recovery, but the cancer returned in spring 2001, and Kepler was given only six months to a year to live.

Deb said the experimental drug treatments her husband chose to undergo at the University of Maryland Hospital "might have bought him some more time."

Kepler passed away at 4:20 p.m. Saturday in his South Prospect Street home.

Herald-Mail opinion page editor Bob Maginnis summed up the feelings of many of Kepler's co-workers about their friend and colleague: "Darrell was so talented. He was a great writer, but he was a better human being."

A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Rest Haven Funeral Chapel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, Division of Hematology/Oncology, c/o UMMS Foundation, 29 S. Greene St., Suite 500, Baltimore, Md., 21201-1534.

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