Someone I spoke to in the last couple days said “Cancer affects us all,” and that couldn’t be more true. The same day a local establishment held a fundraiser for someone with cancer, the illness ripped someone else from Grays Harbor’s close-knit community.
Dan Hammock, the Hoquiam resident whose news reporting prowess at The Daily World reached every inch of Grays Harbor for more than five years, died Sunday of cancer. He was 55.
His mom Mary and his close friend Kat Bryant miss him. We at the paper miss him. The staff at the Grays Harbor County Department of Public Health do too.
Karen Barkstrom, editorial assistant for The Daily World and a good friend of Dan’s, said she remembers he was “an amazing reporter.”
“For quite a while he was the only reporter The Daily World had,” Barkstrom said. “He would turn out three, four stories a day. Not long stories, but he covered the Port, he covered Hoquiam and Aberdeen cities, and fire and police departments. And any calls that came in, they went to Dan. And he was able to just put out those stories like crazy.”
Leslie Bebich, office manager at The Daily World, fondly remembers Hammock’s versatility.
“He could write about anything,” Bebich said. “He was always busy, always working. Especially when COVID hit, he was the only reporter I think we had at that time. Boy he cranked the stories out. He did a good job.”
Mike McNickle, Dan’s supervisor at the county’s health department, described Dan as “professional and enthusiastic,” and how he “had a passion for the work.”
During Dan’s time at the health department he pushed for more social media and webwork the department was missing. His work also led to “great leaps forward,” such as a mirrored Spanish-speaking website.
McNickle said he and the staff there will miss Dan.
“Public Health has a deep-felt sorrow for his passing away,” McNickle said. “We want to make sure his mom and his sister and his friends are aware that he will be missed dearly here, that he was a great employee and that his passing is a loss for the community as well.”
Barkstrom said Dan wanted people to think of him differently from who he really was. She saw past that.
“He wanted everybody to think he was insensitive, uncaring, just stoic,” Barkstrom said. “But he was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.”
Barkstrom remembered missing Dan when he left the paper to the health department in November 2021, but she “totally understood why.”
“I was happy for him when he found a job at the health department,” Barkstrom said. “Better hours, better benefits. I don’t think it was as challenging to him as the job here, but he needed it after almost getting burned out here.”
If Dan hadn’t left the newspaper when he did, he might have only conversed with Mary Ellis on the phone. Ellis, administrative lead at the health department, turned into a close friend in her not quite one year of working with Dan. She’s grateful to have known him. He taught her to live life without regret and instead do what you can each day.
One of the big things Ellis remembers about Dan is his sense of humor — a common talent that other friends of Dan mentioned about him.
“He had a very dry wit and he was so smart with what he could come up with,” Ellis said. “Most of the time his humor would go over people’s heads. It was funny because he would say it and then a few seconds would go by before they got it. He was brilliant. His sense of humor was just magical.”
Barkstrom said Dan would “zing ya every once in a while and you didn’t even see it coming.”
Bebich will miss Dan’s smile and his sense of humor. She’ll also miss his stories about his cat Buddy.
Ellis misses his laugh.
“I wish I could bottle that,” Ellis said. “It was amazing.”
Bryant, a former editor for The Daily World, misses her friend dearly.
“We were about as good of friends as you could be,” Bryant said.
Despite the clear pain Bryant was in while she spoke about Dan — who donned a purple shirt with a Jerry Garcia tie as he stood alongside Bryant as her “dude of honor” when she got married — she managed to chuckle as she recalled his sense of humor, which she called “amazing.”
“It was all under-the-radar, if you blinked you missed it. But he had a very rare sense of humor.”
Dan’s music fandom
Ellis, like Barkstrom, remembers Dan as a huge music fan. His albums of choice belonged to the rock band KISS, as well as many metal bands such as Slayer.
Ellis’ favorite memory of Dan is when he wrote an email about “National Slayer Day.” Dan sent a meme about the day honoring the band.
“I had never felt more at home at a job as when he sent that,” said Ellis, who also learned that it’s OK to be different with “weird quirky things.”
Ellis was surprised at Dan’s Slayer fandom. The heavy metal band is known for its super-speed riffs, loud, harsh vocals and blistering drumming.
“When you think of a reporter or a public information officer, you don’t think of KISS or Slayer,” Ellis said. “But he was anything but stuffy. I loved him. He was the best.”
Mom misses her son
“He was a great son,” Mary Hammock said. “He was a good man. What could I say about my son? I loved him.”
Mary then described her son as “loving, handsome, caring and responsible.”
“I can say nothing but good things about him,” Mary said. “He was just a good man.”
She’s not alone, not at all. Dan’s friends miss him dearly. Bryant said she first became friends through “mutual respect for each other’s work.”
“Over time we became the kind of friends who would do anything for each other,” Bryant said. “I loved him like a brother.”
Bryant shared how she was briefly homeless and how for three months Dan took in Bryant and her pets so they’d have a place to live. Bryant later returned the favor for Dan and Dan’s beloved cat Buddy when they needed a home.
“Dan stayed and rented my house until he passed,” Bryant said.
While Barkstrom mainly knew Dan in the office, she knew how much he cared for those people and animals, like Buddy, who were close to him.
“He loved his cat Buddy,” Barkstrom said. “That’s one of the ways you saw the soft side of Dan come out. You’d ask about Buddy, and Buddy was a wild, crazy cat that was kind of like Dan, was kind of standoff-ish but loved Dan like crazy. And you’d ask him about Buddy and his face would just light up. He’d tell you something crazy or stupid or whatever that Buddy had done and you knew they had a great relationship.”
While Bryant described Dan as an “extreme introvert,” he spent a lot of time with his feet up in his “comfy chair” and watch anything on TV to “recharge for the next day,” Dan made time for his friends. Barkstrom knows that.
“I’m gonna miss him,” Barkstrom said. “We didn’t talk that often but when we did it was like ‘Oh my gosh,’ I miss talking to Dan. I love Dan. He’s just a special kind of guy. At first he kind of scared me. He was so gruff, he wanted people to think he was gruff and was not warm and fuzzy. But then the longer we worked together, it was pretty special.”
Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.