ST. PETERSBURG — "Big Moe" stood out on campus. Aaron Moe, a first-year journalism graduate student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, stood 6 feet 4 and moved like the offensive lineman he had once been.
His upbeat personality also made him memorable. People called him a teddy bear. One professor said he had never seen a new student pick up so many friends so quickly. Another said Mr. Moe reminded him of Quinton Aaron, who played gentle giant Michael Oher in The Blind Side.
But what most impressed others was Mr. Moe's promise. He had goals for himself, and for journalism, professors say — and the leadership ability and skills to make a difference.
Mr. Moe, a thoughtful student who engaged his peers with humor and perspective, died Feb. 19 of pneumonia. He was 24.
"I really think he would have been a newsroom leader," said professor Tony Silvia, who said Mr. Moe told him he wanted to make news more accessible to young people and minorities, more responsive to readers and less to profits.
His mother called him "the ambassador" for the way he could talk her out of disciplining his little sister. "He told her, 'Just give her one more time,' " said Ericka Moe, 22.
A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Mr. Moe played football and basketball in high school. He went to college to learn how to be a chef. By the time he graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo, Mr. Moe was assistant sports editor of the student newspaper and headed for graduate school in journalism.
"He was kind of quiet at first, but after a while we got to know each other," said Greg Lindberg, 23, Mr. Moe's roommate since August. "I'm legally blind, and he helped me around campus. He became a really good friend."
As the only black student in a class on race and gender, Mr. Moe often grounded classmates with his honesty. "Aaron always had the most well-reasoned arguments for everything," said Matthew Parke, 30. "When you expected him to have a certain opinion one way, he would kind of counter it."
Mr. Moe believed that the media too often reinforced stereotypes rather than challenging them. More and more, he talked about being an opinion writer someday. "He had a voice and a gentleness that you don't often see in opinion journalists," said professor Robert Dardenne, the school's journalism department chairman. "I think it could have worked. He could have found a place."
Mr. Moe reported for minor eye surgery Wednesday but was transferred to Largo Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed pneumonia. He died two days later.
"I thought, 'pneumonia? That's curable,' " Ericka Moe recalled. "How do people die from pneumonia?"
Then, answering her own question, she said, "It was just his time. He went home quietly."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]