I wish Jerry Nachman were still around. He passed away in January 2004 at the young age of 57 from gall bladder cancer.
I first met Jerry in my senior year of high school. I was 17 and was working for the local daily paper as a photographer. I also swept the floors of the type composing room every night. Type was made 'hot' back then from poured lead which meant I was pushing dirty, lead shavings around a very large room.
Jerry had just graduated from Youngstown State University and had joined the staff at the East Liverpool Review as a reporter. He seemed much older to me but the fact was we were only separated by 3 or 4 years.
He was a genius with a great sense of humor and I enjoyed being around him. One night, shortly after June graduation, I was having too good of a time with my friends and neglected to make it into the composing room to sweep the lead. When I arrived early in the morning, I was sent to my boss whereupon he did me a favor and fired me. With that news in hand, I went into the newsroom to load some film. The editor of the paper, Art Thomas (another fantastic mentor) called me over and said he heard I'd been fired, which I found amazing since the walk from the boss who fired me to the editor took all of 30 seconds. I guess he knew before I did.
He then offered me a full time job as a reporter and photographer. I immediately accepted and he told me to take the empty desk next to Jerry. I couldn't have been happier.
For the next four months, I spent 5 and 6 days a week next to Nachman soaking up his methods and personality. He was a tenacious pit bull with a story and enjoyed twisting the tails of politicians and criminals. Our last assignment together was to go into a West Virginia illegal gambling 'joint' and observe and write a story. I took a sub-miniature Minox camera which I hid in a cigarette pack with a cutout for the lens. The next day, I unexpectedly got called to active military duty early. I never read the story but I know in the coming months, Jerry had his life threatened more than once.
Jerry and I lost touch after that. Every once in a while I would run across information about him but Google wasn't around to help back then. Sometime around 2002 (35 years later), I was on a Jet Blue flight out of FL into Kennedy when I happened to catch an MSNBC program on the TV seat back. There he was hosting his own news talk show and interviewing a politician with the same tenacity I remembered. I found his email address and dropped him a note asking if he remembered the young kid who sat at the desk next to him back in 1967. He surely did and he reminded me I wasn't that much younger than him - especially now that we were both in our fifties.
We exchanged more emails and talked about getting together in New York. He told he was doing Atkins or some diet and was losing a lot of weight. Then he started having gall bladder problems. The next thing I knew he was going into the hospital to have it removed. Shortly thereafter he told me he was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. It's rare and it was advanced.
When he passed away, Jerry was vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC. His career spanned radio, television and print. He worked in front of the camera and behind; on the street, in the newsroom and in the front office. Jerry served as the news director for WNBC-TV in New York City; Vice President, News, WCBS-TV, New York and Editor-in-Chief, New York Post. He also served for many years as an on-air street reporter for both WCBS Radio and WCBS Television in New York, and was a columnist for the New York Post. In separate assignments he was Vice President and General Manager of WRC Radio and WRC Television, both NBC-owned properties in Washington, D.C.
Jerry was employed as a staff writer on "UC: Undercover," a primetime drama that aired Sunday nights on NBC in late 2001. He also worked as a staff writer on "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher," returning in Election Year 2000 as executive producer. He also co-anchored the nightly public affairs broadcast "Life and Times Tonight" at KCET, the Los Angeles PBS station. In addition, he co-wrote a short film for the American Film Institute that won the 1999 Academy Award.
Finally, Jerry was the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition.
Not bad for a guy who started out as a reporter for the East Liverpool Ohio Review.
I began this by saying I wish Jerry were still around. You see, we never did find the time to get together again. And, these days when I'm tempted to say there isn't enough time, I remind myself that I have all them time there is available and it is up to me to decide how to spend it.
I would have liked to have had one more laugh, one more drink and one more cigar with him. If you have an old friend you haven't seen in a while, maybe you'll think of Jerry and go see them.