Tim's story

The troubled life of an amazing journalist

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Timothy Michael Roche will be remembered as a great reporter, in the old-fashioned shoe-leather-and-compassion sense of the word. At the St. Petersburg Times and Time magazine, Roche produced scoop after scoop — from details of the Columbine High School shootings to Henry Lyons' fall from Baptist power. He famously spent 18 days in jail to protect a source.

But you have to wonder whether the investigative reporter in Roche would have approved of the unquestioning version of his life that ran earlier this month in local daily newspapers and in Associated Press accounts after his death at age 38.

The official cause was listed as multiple strokes, but he also struggled with other illnesses: he was HIV-positive and had a years-long addiction to methamphetamine. At the heart of his problems, some friends suggest, was Roche's conflicted private life as a closeted gay man: He was out to a small number of friends, but he kept his sexual orientation, the source of estrangement from his family, hidden from the world at large.

Even a St. Petersburg private investigator who worked on several stories with him didn't know he was gay until after his death. "It would have been fine with me," said the investigator, Lynn-Marie Carty. "He said he was engaged to a nurse named Pam."

While the local dailies made no mention of his homosexuality, the Express Gay News, a South Florida weekly, headlined its Roche obit, "Gay journalist who rose to Time bureau chief dies." It included an interview with a boyfriend from the 1980s, Paul Donahue of Hollywood, Fla., who told Creative Loafing that he pleaded with Roche to get help for his addiction. "He just didn't want to look in the mirror," Donahue said. "There was just too much pain there."

When Roche left Time in 2002 after arguing with a top editor, he moved to San Francisco, where he felt at home in its progressive and gay-friendly community but fell victim to meth. He was trying to write a book that one friend described as an effort to pick up where the classic AIDS history, And the Band Played On, left off. His sister, Neda Burrows, said the family has not had a chance to go through his belongings but hope to find something that can be published.

Conflict. Pain. Denial. It would have made the kind of tale Tim Roche loved to report.

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