A former Pittsburgh radio personality who hosted a soul music show for 14 years before eventually settling down in Mesa for a second career as a juvenile detention officer has died of COVID-19.
Stephen Chatman moved to Phoenix and started working for the county juvenile probation office in 2012. Chatman stayed in that job until March 30, when he died of complications related to the coronavirus.
He was 55 years old and suffered from medical maladies including diabetes, kidney disease, and heart problems. As of Tuesday, 24 people have died of COVID-19 in Arizona.
Taryn Chatman said her father died around 3 a.m. at the Mountain Vista Medical Center in Mesa. He had been in an induced coma since March 25.
“I am more angry than I am sad. I hate knowing there are more daughters and sons doing this. No 27-year-old wants to plan their dad’s cremation,” said Chatman, who lives in Mesa. “No one.”
Chatman described her father as caring man and a great listener who devoted the later part of his life to helping at-risk youth land on their feet.
“My dad was one of those people who could walk into a room full of strangers and come out with a room full of friends,” she said. “He would give you the skin off his own body if you needed it.”
In the days leading up to his death, Stephen Chatman updated his friends and families about his illness on Facebook.
On March 15, Chatman said his doctor told him he had the flu and gave him steroids to help speed up his recovery. “Can’t go back to work until the 18th at best, but it was a huge relief to be told you don’t have the virus,” he added.
Two days later, Chatman posted a picture of himself outside a polling station for the Arizona Democratic Presidential Primary Election. The election had gone on as scheduled despite Ohio postponing its primary on the same day and a scuttled effort by County Recorder Adrian Fontes to allow all mail-in voting.
Chatman announced on March 21 that he had tested positive for COVID-19. “I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of you again as soon as possible,” he wrote.
The next day, Chatman wrote his last Facebook post.
He wrote that he was “feeling a little better,” that his family could not see him because of his imposed isolation, and that a friend was arranging a “reunion” with potato pie. “Keep me in your prayers,” Chatman wrote. “The doctors are doing the best so that’s all I can hope for.”
Chatman worked the second shift at the Southeast Detention Facility in Mesa from 2 to 10 p.m.
Joy Skaggs, who worked as a second-shift supervisor for the probation office, remembered chatting with Chatman about his frustrations with some of the children he worked with “because of the talents and intelligence that they do have and how they could make a difference in this world for themselves and others if they turned their life around.”
“He had a gift for seeing past what brought them to detention and seeing into the heart of an individual,” Skaggs said in a Facebook message. “I never heard him speak negatively about anyone and it was an honor and a privilege to work with him.”
Other colleagues remembered Chatman on a Facebook memorial post from the Arizona Probation Officers Association. “I will miss that radiant smile of yours,” wrote one officer. “Your smile and big heart will be missed!” wrote another.
Maricopa County spokesperson Fields Moseley said the county learned of Chatman’s death on Monday. Eric Meaux, director of juvenile court services, did not respond to questions about the extent of Chatman’s recent contact with juveniles or other county employees.
Prior to moving to Arizona, Chatman worked for 14 years as a radio host for a soul music program in Pittsburgh. Chatman was known for talking personally about the music he played, including “where he was when a song first came out, who he was dating at the time, who he danced to it with,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“Stephen was a big guy with a big smile and even bigger heart. Every conversation I had with the man began and ended with a laugh; no matter what he was dealing with, no matter what was on his mind, he found the humor in it. He brought that attitude to his show,” Rosemary Welsch, the host of a show called Afternoon Mix, said in a statement.
WYEP Director of Music Kyle Smith added: “Stephen was the first voice I was able to hear and listen to on WYEP, during my move from Vermont to Pittsburgh in late 1998. His love and passion for what he was doing was obvious in his unique style and delivery of Soul music to the WYEP audience.”
Along with Taryn, Stephen Chatman leaves behind another daughter, Yoshiko Slater, from a different mother and a son, Stefan Chatman, from his wife, Roshonda Chatman. Although Chatman and his wife were still legally married, they had been separated at the time of his death.
Taryn Chatman said her father has helped her through her own chronic illnesses and mental health lows.
“Especially with my rabbit holes, I would go down there and he would pull me back up and remind me I can’t let that self-loathing, that self-hate, win,” she said, adding that he applied similar care to kids he worked with at the juvenile detention center. She said she has found postcards and letters from children thanking him after they finished their stints. She shared a letter from a teenager named Mark with Phoenix New Times:
“Thank you for caring for us and making us positive and strong. When I wasn’t in the best mood, you would always make me laugh and cheer me up. You really did help me to be strong and make the right decisions in life,” the letter from Mark stated. “Chatman, I hope one day I will see you someday on the outs. I won’t miss detention, but I will miss the good people and staff in it, including you, my friend.”