Jeff Zaslow Dies in Auto Accident

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.

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13 Responses to Jeff Zaslow Dies in Auto Accident

  1. W. Bruce Cameron says:

    This is such a shock to me. I just saw Jeff a few weeks ago. I counted him as a friend and was always happy to see him. I found out just a few minutes ago about his passing, so I’m not really able to process my thoughts other than to be dumbfounded. The event he was doing was in the town of my literal birth and where he went into his skid is a part of a country road I have traveled countless times. When I am on that stretch this summer and again over the years, I will never NOT think of him.

    I don’t really have any words, now. I’m just… I am hopelessly distraught.

    Bruce

  2. Dave Lieber says:

    We all loved Jeffrey Zaslow. For so many reasons that others are doing well explaining. Now I understand why he was so driven to write so many wonderful columns and books, help so many people through his writing. He didn’t realize it, or maybe he did, but his time on earth was too short and he was determined to make the most of it. I did tell him after his first two books, when he was complaining how tired he was, exhausted really, that he needed to take time off and regroup. He looked at me as if I were nuts. Then he wrote three more books in an incredibly short span. God bless his family. May they have the strength to continue.

    • I met Jeff at the Will Rogers Writers Conference in OKC, the same time I met Dave Lieber. Both were so gracious with their time, friendly and helpful…maybe they both had been Boy Scouts…anyway, reading about Jeff hit me like a ton of bricks.

      God bless him for his absolutely inspired writing which gives the rest of us something to shoot for.

  3. Dan St.Yves says:

    Wonderful, touching piece. I suggest that we consider an award in his memory, perhaps the “Columnist Of The Year”. In his career, Jeff showed us there are no limitations to the heights that our writing can rise.

    My memories are on my blog today:
    http://thatdanguy.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-certainly-cant-claim-to-have-known.html

    Dan

  4. Marge Neal says:

    I never met Jeff but, as happens with many writers who share their hearts and souls in their writing, I felt like I knew him and now I feel the loss of him as if it were the loss of a good friend.

    My thoughts and prayers are with his family members, friends and colleagues.

  5. I met Jeff at the NSNC conference in Detroit after having read The Last Lecture. I had been so impacted by the book that I was truly nervous about meeting Jeff, in the way that one stands in awe of someone of great talent and fame. I was thrilled to discover a humble, self-effacing man who was less interested in discussing his accomplishments than learning more about mine. I left feeling richer for the experience and hoping to cross paths again to continue our newly formed acquaintance. I’m saddened that will never happen now, and sadder still for the tragedy that silenced such a great voice. My prayers go out to his family and friends.

  6. Bob Haught says:

    I met Jeff in 2000 when he came with his wife Sherry to the Washington, DC conference to accept the first Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. They were both a bit awed by the experience. Jim Hartz, chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, presented the award. Jeff’s remarks were gracious and brief. He was very proud of that award, for his community service in Chicago, and showed his appreciation by listing it in his bio, along with his NSNC contest awards and best-selling book titles. He also later contributed much good advice and support for the program. As others have said he was always willing to help our organization and its members, even as his time grew more in demand. He had a sharp mind, a quick wit, a winning smile and a sense of loyalty to his friends. I treasure our long friendship. While I join in mourning the loss of a great talent, I cherish the memory of watching him grow as a journalist and his career blossom while remaining devoted to his family and true to his values.

  7. Our wonderful friend and terrific author and columnist, Jeff Zaslow, died in a car accident! I had last heard from Jeff by email on January 7, when I emailed him how much I enjoyed his “Magic Room” excerpt in that week’s PARADE magazine. As always, he instantly responded, thanked me, asked how I had seen PARADE in advance of the next day’s issue – and I told him that the INQUIRER distributes sections of Sunday’s paper the day before.

    Although I had written about his book on Sully and the magical safe landing of the plane on the Hudson River, I had not yet hdad a chance to interview him about his GABBY book. He will be missed!!


    My column about Jeffrey Zaslow:
    http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2009/07/02/main_line_times/opinion/doc4a4b9e1079ecc548332351.txt?viewmode=fullstory

  8. Dave Astor says:

    Beautiful article, Sheila. As has been said, one of Jeff’s many wonderful attributes was that he remained a friendly and helpful and down-to-earth person even after achieving major literary fame. He was exceptionally smart, very funny, a great writer, and much more. Jeff will be very, very missed.

  9. Bill Tammeus says:

    Jeff always was willing to help others. He even agreed to let a class I was teaching on death a couple of summers ago Skype him up and pick his brain about what he learned from “The Last Lecture.” The world needs more people like him.

  10. Jerry Zezima says:

    A tragic loss, not only of a great journalist, but of a great man. It is our duty to keep Jeff’s craft — and his indomitable spirit — alive.

  11. Ben Pollock says:

    Jeff was my friend, through the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, a builder of friendships among columnists. More importantly, Jeff was a friend to the NSNC, an enthusiastic supporter of the society and individual members. Here is my remembrance: http://benpollock.com/brick/2012/02/11/my-friend-jeff-zaslow .

    A Jewish prayer: May his memory be for a blessing.

    The NSNC board and I invite comments about Jeff here.

  12. Sheila,

    You did Jeff proud. Wonderful tribute. You captured his essence.

    Cynthia

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