Slain newspaper employees noted for talent, warmth, wit

Slain newspaper employees noted for talent, warmth, wit
The Associated Press

Family and colleagues remember the five people killed in a Maryland newspaper shooting as dedicated members of the community. The employees killed Thursday at the Annapolis paper were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, has been charged with five counts of murder in one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in U.S. history.

GERALD FISCHMAN

Former colleagues of Gerald Fischman, the editorial page editor at the Capital Gazette, roundly described the veteran journalist as reserved, precise and exceptionally talented.

“Gerald was the most brilliant editorial writer I’ve ever known,” said Dan Casey, a former reporter at the paper who is now a columnist at The Roanoke Times.

Fischman, who won annual awards for his editorial writing like clockwork, was socially awkward but in an “endearing” way, Casey said.

Steve Gunn, a former editor of the paper, said Fischman was “the master of AP style” who “made sure everything was just right.”

“He was famous for working long days and being very precise in his language and always making sure the editorial page reflected the heart of the newspaper,” Gunn said.

Fischman had worked at the paper since 1992.

Politicians who encountered Fischman told the Baltimore Sun he was impressive and capable of putting them on guard.

“When I sat for my endorsement interviews in 2010, he made it clear to me it was to be earned and by no means was guaranteed,” former two-term Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit told the newspaper. “He asked tough questions and exposed every weakness in my legislative record. He treated council races like they were presidential races.”

ROB HIAASEN

Assistant managing editor Rob Hiaasen’s family is “devastated” by his death, said his brother, author Carl Hiaasen.

In a brief phone call with The Associated Press, prolific novelist and a longtime Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen said his family “was devastated beyond words” by the senseless killing of his brother, who was 59.

“He was the most remarkable person. So gifted and talented and dedicated to journalism,” he said, his voice choked with emotion.

Saying he was too wracked with grief to speak further, Hiaasen referred an AP reporter to something he had just posted to his Facebook page, describing Rob as one of the most “gentle and funny people I’ve ever known.”

Gunn, the former Capital Gazette editor, said Rob Hiaasen was a “gifted editor who had an aura of an artist around him who made people want to make journalism a beautiful craft.”

Another fellow journalist, Jan Winburn, who had worked with Hiaasen for a decade, said he had a true passion for the craft. “His heart was always in it — every story, every line and every word,” she wrote on his Facebook page.

Nicknamed “Big Rob” because of his height and spirit, he was widely known for his generosity and mentoring relationship with younger reporters.

Hiaasen had just celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary with his wife, Maria, whose birthday was Thursday, the day of the deadly attack.

JOHN McNAMARA

John McNamara was a longtime employee of the newspaper who had worked as a sports writer and copy editor and moved more recently to a weekly publication, the Bowie Blade-News, colleague David Broughton said.

Broughton, the paper’s sports editor, said he had worked with McNamara since 1994 and sat in a neighboring cubicle.

“I could hear his conversations (at the newspaper),” said Broughton. “He was just a really thoughtful guy and a very intellectual guy. He could have an intelligent conversation about anything, whether it was politics or travel or English literature.”

The paper’s newsroom was full of plenty of “misfits in one way or another,” but McNamara didn’t fall into that category, Casey said. Instead, he was a personable, approachable nice guy with an “encyclopedic knowledge” of sports and music.

McNamara was an avid basketball player with a self-deprecating sense of humor and bellowing laugh who had married his college sweetheart, according to Broughton.

“He often said that marrying her was his greatest accomplishment,” Broughton said.

REBECCA SMITH

Rebecca Smith, a recently hired sales assistant at the Capital Gazette, was a caring, upbeat person who adored her fiance and his young daughter, friend Carolyn Dedmon said.

Smith’s fiance recently joined a softball team Dedmon’s husband coaches, and she quickly became part of the softball family, Dedmon said.

Smith called herself a “bonus mom” to her fiance’s daughter and loved taking her to softball games and having game nights at home, Dedmon said.

“Everything was always about Rileigh and making her happy and spending as much time as possible with her,” she said.

Smith’s boss, Capital Gazette advertising director Marty Padden, described her as a thoughtful person who made sure the sales office ran smoothly.

“She was kind and considerate, and willing to help when needed. She seemed to really enjoy to be working in the media business,” Padden told The Sun .

Dedmon said Smith was dealing with severe endometriosis but never let it get her down.

“She always went to work, did what she had to do. She was never sad,” Dedmon said.

WENDI WINTERS

Special publications editor Wendi Winters was “the heart of the newspaper,” Gunn said.

Winters was passionate about serving the community and was a role model for younger journalists, he recalled.

“She was in many ways the best part of the newspaper in that she cared so much about the city,” he said.

The 65-year-old moved to Maryland about 20 years ago after a career in fashion and public relations in New York.

She had a flair for writing features and let her “quirky and fun” personality shine through in her work, according to Susan O’Brien, spokeswoman for the city of Annapolis.

“She always seemed to be smiling. She was just a very pleasant person. It’s just unbelievable to think she’s no longer here,” O’Brien said.

Winters was the beloved mother of four children, all young adults. The oldest, 29-year-old Winters Geimer, said her mother’s personality matched her red hair and 6-foot frame.

“She was larger than life,” Geimer said Friday after a vigil at her mother’s Annapolis church. “She was a hard person to miss.”

Geimer said her mother worked as a publicist in New York before starting to freelance at the Annapolis newspaper nearly 20 years ago. She also had been a stay-at-home mother who loved to make homemade clothes and Halloween costumes for her children.

“My mother loved to write and to create,” she said. “She was a multitalented artist.”

Winters was a congregation member at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, where dozens of mourners gathered Friday to grieve and pay tribute to her and her slain colleagues.

Some congregation members laughed through tears as they shared stories about her. Dr. L.E. Gomez said Winters was, like him, a New York native and had a sarcastic, opinionated, irreverent manner. He loved their frequent discussions about local politics even though they often disagreed.

“Wendi made me feel at home,” he said. “It didn’t matter what we were talking about. It was the way she communicated with people.”

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The AP News Research Center in New York and AP writers Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, and Michael Kunzelman in Annapolis contributed to this report.

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