FORT KNOX, Ky. — My countenance rose last month as my office phone rang and a familiar number showed on the display. I picked up the receiver: “Gollllllllld Standard!!!”
When I glanced back at the display, I knew instantly who it was and had prepared to deliver my annoyingly unprofessional and slightly humorous greeting as soon as I answered: the same greeting I had delivered at least a hundred times before.
Matthew Rector laughed at the other end of the line, as always. Unbeknownst to me, this would be one of the last times, at least in an official capacity—
Barely two months into 2018, I quickly grew to recognize and anticipate Matt’s office number. That’s because I had dialed it, or he had dialed mine, countless times. We were already a well-oiled history team by then.
My friendship and working relationship with Matt didn’t kick off when I arrived at Fort Knox in September 2017. As I took over the editor job at The Gold Standard newspaper that month, I didn’t have time to think about 100+ years of Fort Knox history. Working with an established reporter, I was just living week-to-week, trying to get reaccustomed to the art of two people producing a newspaper and putting it into the hands of Fort Knox readers.
By the end of the year, however, that reporter had left for a promotion as editor of another Army newspaper in another location, and the Centennial was fast approaching. Army leaders expected me to cover as many aspects of our installation’s history in every facet and every way as possible.
That’s when Fort Knox Command Information chief Kyle Hodges introduced me to Matt: “He’ll make your life easy; he knows Fort Knox history like nobody else.”
In December 2017, Kyle and I met with Matt in our Public Affairs conference room to discuss some of those yearlong plans.
Lots. Of plans.
The plans included weekly history vignettes that Matt would provide, and topical concept stories unique to Fort Knox that I would provide — in fresh, clever ways. Clearly, I would have to rely heavily on Matt for virtually every aspect of every story, including historical photos and even interviewees.
I had never lived in Central Kentucky before, so I knew nothing about the post’s history.
As we sat around the table, Kyle and I sought Matt’s advice on what each monthly big-picture theme should be throughout the year, and in what order. Matt said he already had a working list in mind: not a 100% solution yet, but at least about 75%.
Just hearing him talk about his ideas that day left me extremely impressed with Matt’s grasp of history. But talking is one thing, doing is another. Most people can talk, not nearly as many can write; or even understand how to write. Since I no longer had a reporter to lean on for help in producing the newspaper, I leaned on Matt.
Before the start of the year Matt had already delivered several history vignettes that would last me easily half a year or more. We worked together on the topic themes, he sent me photos to support each, and oftentimes he became my subject matter expert for various historical stories.
The word “no” didn’t seem to exist in his vocabulary. Anybody who knows me knows I can change direction on a story without notice. I get an idea, I run with it. Sometimes it works; sometimes, not so much — Matt entertained all my hairbrained ideas and either gently redirected me with wise options, or said, “Sure, let’s try it.”
If I had a sharp deadline and couldn’t land the interview we had discussed, Matt would step in and provide the quotes I needed, usually with the same humble response: “Well, I just hope I can give you what you need for this story.”
People like Matt are like trees on the Great Plains — so few in number they are easy to spot, even from far away, and a refreshing sight in a generally uninteresting landscape. During a year of historical significance, the significance of working with Matt was not lost on me.
Somewhere along the way, every time I saw his number on my display, I would answer with “Gollllllld Standard!!!” in my same goofy way, and it stuck. Sometimes when I called, he would greet me with “Is this The Golllllllld Standard?”
Shortly after the newspaper presses quit running at the end of September 2018, Matt called my number and without missing a beat, I delivered my usual greeting. He laughed and said, “I thought The Gold Standard didn’t exist anymore.”
As much as Matt took his day job as the installation’s historic preservation specialist seriously and approached every job he did with the utmost of professionalism, so also did he with his “geeking out” (his words) love of history. On two occasions he and I sat by my phone and discussed some unique Fort Knox history with famous people: rocker John Fogerty and NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik.
On other occasions, he lined me up with historic figures to interview, such as heroes from World War II and even some Holocaust survivors. Virtually every aspect of Fort Knox history that I have written about has been dug up —sometimes literally — and uncovered by Matt. Every ounce of respect I have for Matt has been built brick-by-brick from his passionately pursued awe of history and those who have shaped it.
Along the way, Matt has added his own name to the list of those who have shaped the history of this place by his sacrificial service to the art of it. He has left such an indelible mark on Fort Knox, many people think he is the post historian — a position that actually doesn’t exist.
Our mutual banter and love of Fort Knox history continued until last week when Matt walked into my office and said, “Well, I guess you haven’t heard. I took a job with NASA.”
I was shocked and sad. And at the same time happy for him. I congratulated him and told him he would be missed by a lot of people, especially me.
“It’s bittersweet for me, too,” he said.
Matt and his family lived here for about 20 years. Along the path, he had selflessly helped countless families find the gravestones of their loved ones buried here. He had shown the deepest respect for old veterans and retirees by devoting hours and hours of personal time encouraging them to share their stories. He had helped develop some lasting monuments to Fort Knox history and preserve countless memories that otherwise would fade into the soil without a second thought.
He had turned my phone into a herald of anticipated history — from a number that will no longer show up on my display …