“What I like to tell myself, and it sounds crazy, is that his heart was just too big for his little body.”
This was one of the many praises Kirksville citizen Derick Garr had to say about his good friend, Matt.
Garr says back in the early 2000s he was working at KTVO and had just come out as gay when Null, who at the time was majoring in communication and media studies at Truman State University, reached out to him online asking if he wanted to talk and hang out.
Garr says Null was an active and proud member of the LGBTQ community who gave him the confidence he needed to fully embrace who he was.
Garr says Null also served as a mentor for him throughout his early years as a young adult.
“When you were friends with Matt it was like you were always sitting at the cool table,” Garr says. “Being a person from here that doesn’t go to Truman, he made sure I was involved in everything that had to do with Truman that I could be involved with. He wanted to make sure I was there for National Coming Out Day. He wanted to make sure I was there for all the Prism dances. He would see somebody and want to care so much for them and include them in everything. He, without even trying, made you feel special.”
Garr says even though Null’s career took him across the country to Minnesota, Ohio, California, Florida and eventually New York, he still kept in close contact with many of his Truman and Kirksville friends. Garr says Null always made an effort to check in with them while still making new friends and impacting the lives of new people everywhere he went.
“You could talk to Matt and instead of trying to fix you, he just wanted to listen and see what your story was and what you had going on,” Garr says. “I feel fortunate because Matt was such a good friend of mine, and I feel bad because I wish there were more Matts out there. It didn’t matter who you were. You were included. You were one of his friends. He was proud of who he was and he wanted you to be proud of who you were. He wanted to make sure that you knew it was going to be okay. That’s what I needed. That’s what a lot of people needed.”
Garr says the last time he talked to Null, Null told him about his plans to go on a trip to Europe. Garr says the death still feels surreal, and he is still waiting to hear how the trip went.
Garr says the little things, like the way Null would hug his loved ones, showed just how much he cared for them.
“When Matt hugged you it wasn’t the casual, put your arms around you and pat your back,” Garr says. “He would almost lift you up and hug you because that’s just the kind of person he was. You were family when you were with Matt. It’s rough knowing he only had 34 years, but the redeeming factor in all of that is how many people he touched. If I can take that in turn and help even one person feel comfortable — feel more confident — then I’ll know that Matt’s life wasn’t in vain.”
In addition to creating strong bonds with others, Null was part of a monumental movement in the communication department and Truman Media Network, according to Elizabeth Clark, Dean of Social and Cultural Studies, and the former Communication Department Chair when Null attended Truman.
Clark says while she worked in the communication department she was the adviser for Truman’s TV station, which Null was a field reporter for, and she also had him in one of her classes.
“He was typically in good spirits,” Clark says. “He was somebody who liked to joke. He was quick to smile. My sense was that he was the person in the class who others could rely on. Not necessarily the person who was out front, but if they needed help from someone, if they needed support from someone, Matt was a person they could rely on to pitch in.”
Clark says Null was involved with TMN during 2004 and was one of the students who traveled to St. Louis to get live coverage of the elections that year, which was the first time TMN had ever gotten coverage of elections or created converged media over multiple platforms.
“He came through in a group of students who were all very hard workers,” Clark says. “They were exposed to the kind of experience they had not had before, they rose to the occasion, did meaningful work and they focused on some pretty hard hitting issues in terms of the elections, so I think he was characteristic of that very good group of students he came through with.”
Clark says Null was a strong part of TMN’s roots and helped make TMN what it is today.
“It is always rewarding for me to see the kind of work that our students do when they leave here and to see what kinds of impact they’re able to make on the world because of their involvement in the media and bringing important information to the public,” Clark says. “Knowing how well he was doing, knowing he was on an upward trajectory in his career, what I have regrets about is not being able to see where he would have been able to go beyond where he already is.”
In addition to what Null gave to his loved ones and his school, Null’s mother and sister are setting up a charity in his name that is going to raise money for PAWS NYC, a charity that helps disabled and other vulnerable pet owners care for their pets, like the way Null cared for his Shiba Inu, Glitter. His family is also raising money for The Ali Forney Center, which advocates for New York’s homeless gay youth, according to youcaring.com.
Christine Romans, CNN Morning Show Anchor, says on the show that Null was a rising star at CNN.
“When terrible things happen around the world, he is the one who brings it to you with calm and fairness,” Romans says. “He is someone who really made a difference in the world through his job.”