09/28/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
As a TV journalist, John Holliman courted danger all over the world. In 1986, while covering Hurricane Charley in Maryland, he called his wife, Dianne, from a flooded hotel to assure her he was okay, then interrupted himself: "Oh, my God, there goes a phone booth!" Five years later, Holliman was hunkered down in a Baghdad hotel room with CNN colleagues Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw while U.S. missiles and Iraqi artillery exploded overhead. "Holy cow! It's like the Fourth of July!" Arnett recalls him shouting during one of the trio's broadcasts. "He was Mr. Enthusiasm," adds Arnett, "the happy warrior of CNN."
So it was what Walter Cronkite calls "a terribly cruel travesty of fate" that Holliman, 49, should die so violently—in a head-on collision Sept. 12—just two miles from the suburban Atlanta house he shared with Dianne, 50, his third wife, and their son Jay, 5. Holliman's errand that Saturday—to buy maple syrup for his boy's waffles—was as prosaic as his career was adventurous. "The principal thing that makes any good reporter is curiosity," says Cronkite (who was to coanchor John Glenn's space flight next month with Holliman), "and John had it to the nth degree."
Growing up in Thomaston, Ga., the older of two sons of John, a lawyer, and his wife, Arva, Holliman "was a newshound from the word go," recalls Arva, 77. At 14, he was announcing Little League games on radio, and he went on to earn a B.A. in journalism at the University of Georgia. In 1980, Holliman became one of the first reporters at CNN, where his enthusiasm proved contagious. "Whenever they'd say, 'You have to go here, and Holliman's going with you,' I'd say, 'Great!' " says CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I knew we'd have a good time."