Sean P. Carr, one of the best reporters covering the insurance industry here in the nation’s capital, died suddenly last night from complications during emergency surgery, just a few weeks shy of what would have been his 44th birthday.
Sean and I go back almost exactly 20 years. In my first job in journalism, I was (briefly) a staff writer reporting to Sean as editor of the weekly Elizabeth Gazette in Elizabeth, N.J. After a couple weeks, I was promoted to head my own paper, The Springfield Leader, and together Sean and I were recognized that year by the New Jersey Press Association with awards for editorial commentary. Our publisher swept the category.
In 1996, I replaced Sean as beat writer covering the communities of Lakewood and Point Pleasant, N.J. for the (sadly, now defunct) daily, The Ocean County Observer. Given our similarities in stature, complexion and hair and eye color, some local politicians weren’t even aware the paper had changed reporters, a problem that would recur throughout our careers.
Our paths diverged for a few years, as I went west to California and then south to Florida, and Sean for a time left journalism for politics, working on campaigns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. They converged once again a decade ago in Washington, D.C., where I had moved to become bureau chief for the insurance news service A.M. Best and Sean was doing communications for the SEIU. After a failed attempt to recruit him to Best’s in 2004, I finally managed to lure him into the wacky world of insurance in 2007, hiring him to cover the NAIC.
I left A.M. Best for SNL Financial in 2009, and Sean subsequently replaced me as bureau chief. And when I left SNL in late 2011 to join Eli Lehrer at the Heartland Institute, he took my old gig at SNL. I continued to act as a source for his stories, though this required us to negotiate some loose and informal rules, particularly in our daily Gchat conversations, about which tidbits were to be considered on or off the record. My foul mouth, more than anything else, pushed most of these dialogues into the latter category.
For two guys whose lives and careers were as intertwined as ours, Sean and I did not share the same politics. I am a committed advocate of free markets and deregulation. Sean was a dyed-in-the-wool leftist with a background in the labor movement. In our younger, more hot-headed days, this clash sometimes led to loud newsroom shouting matches.
But on much else, we shared a lot of common ground, including our mutual love of Guinness, dogs and Star Trek. And our common ground helped our politics grow closer, the older we got.
We both shared a love of science, and it was Sean (who had graduated with a degree in human ecology from Rutgers University’s Cook College) more than anyone else who eventually was able to convince me that climate change and other environmental ills were serious problems that merited a public policy response, even if we likely wouldn’t agree entirely on what the contours of that response should be.
And as two guys who both grew up in blue collar communities in New Jersey, I like to think I was able to bring him around to the realization that many government programs and regulations, pitched as in the “public interest,” are in fact merely tools that big corporations and other established interests use to crush small business and innovative new competitors.
I will miss those talks. I will miss Sean’s joy for life, his distaste for bullshit and even his goofy puns. The worlds of insurance and journalism both are a bit dimmer today, as they each lost one of their guiding lights. I lost one of my best friends, and my brother-in-arms.
UPDATE: I just received this very thoughtful note from former Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who is now serving as president of the NAIC:
I’m sorry you lost such a close friend. Makes Sean’s loss even more difficult. I enjoyed my brief experience with him and considered him professional. Thanks for sharing your common journeys. Memories will prevail.