By Sheila Moss, NSNC WebEditor
It is with great sadness that we report the death of beloved journalist, NSNC colleague and friend, Jeff Zaslow, 53, Wall Street Journal. Jeff died tragically on Friday morning, February 10th, in a traffic accident when his car skidded on ice and snow and collided with a semi. A Philadelphia native, he lived in Detroit at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife Sherry Margolis of FOX TV in Detroit and three daughters. (Fox News Story)
Zazz, as he was called by friends, was an inspiration to columnists who knew him. Fox 2 News in Detroit said he had “a rare gift for writing about love, loss, and other life passages with humor and empathy.” He was the first recipient of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award presented annually by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Jeff received the award at the 2000 NSNC conference in Washington, D.C. He was cited for his annual campaign to raise money for school supplies for needy children and other community endeavors while working as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He also served on the NSNC Board of Directors from 2005 – 2007 and was a winner several times in the annual writing contest.
Zaslow is remembered as someone who always made himself available to speak at conferences and workshops in spite of his busy schedule as well-known columnist and a best-selling author. He never became too important to remember his friends. Brian O’Connor, Detroit News and 2011 NSNC Conference Chair, said: “Jeff was a big help at the Detroit conference, and put together and moderated the book publishing panel.”
Those who knew him remember him as the tall, easy-going fellow with lean features and blond hair. Mike Leonard, Bloomington Herald and NSNC past president, recalls Zazz’s visits to Bloomington, Indiana, when his daughters were students at Indiana University, “He’d call now and then to get coffee when he was dropping one off or picking one up.”
At a workshop in Oklahoma City, Jeff told attendees the story of how he first became well-known for his journalism by entering a contest to write the Ann Landers column for the Chicago Sun-Times. He won the contest and wrote the famous advice column until eventually returning to the Wall Street Journal. He read some of his columns to workshop attendees while lecturing from disorganized folders full of papers that only he could decipher.
The Wall Street Journal reported a statement made to staff by WSJ editor Robert Thomson who said: “Jeff’s writing, for the Journal and in his books, has been a source of inspiration for many people around the world and his journalistic life has been a source of inspiration for all journalists.”
While doing a story for the Journal, Zaslow covered Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, dying of pancreatic cancer, who achieved notoriety for his last lecture about life’s lessons. The video Zaslow posted with his story became an online sensation and Pausch later asked Zaslow to co-author a book “The Last Lecture,” which became a New York Times best seller.
Having achieved fame as a best-selling author, other prominent books followed. Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who landed an airliner safely in the Hudson River, asked Jeff to co-author his book, “Highest Duty,” another best seller.
In 2011, he collaborated with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, on their memoir, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope,” the inspiring story of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head and only recently resigned her congressional office to continue to work on her recovery.
Between these famous books, Zaslow was authoring other best sellers, such as “The Girls from Ames.” His latest book is “The Magic Room: The Love We Wish for Our Daughters.” He also has a website, and a Facebook page.
Members of NSNC are deeply saddened by the loss of this giant in journalism at an early age. Who knows what other works he might have produced if he had been permitted to live longer. He is remembered as the columnist who never forgot his friends and the people he knew before achieving fame. Likewise, we can never forget the man who taught us not only how to write about life, but how to live life in a way that can never be forgotten.