The first time Gerald Fischman applied for a job at The Capital, the editor passed him over.
Fischman’s personality was so quiet and withdrawn that it hid the brilliant mind, wry wit and “wicked pen” that his colleagues would treasure.
For more than 25 years, Fischman was the conscience and voice of the Annapolis news organization, writing scathing, insightful and always exacting editorials about the community.
He was the guardian against libel, the arbiter of taste and a peculiar and endearing figure in a newsroom full of characters.
“He had ability that, I thought, deserved a higher calling than The Capital,” longtime editor and publisher Tom Marquardt said.
“He was a great writer. He was a really smart guy, so smart that he tried out for Jeopardy twice,” Marquardt said. “But he couldn’t get accepted because they didn’t like his personality. That was Gerald’s spin, anyway.”
Fischman, 61, had worked at the paper since 1992. His quirky, low-key demeanor belied a biting sense of humor that charmed his colleagues.
He’d huddle at his desk behind piles of books in a buttoned down V-neck cardigan that he wore regardless of the season. Reporters, seeing Fischman’s name scrawled on the security log for a midnight to 5 a.m. shift, marveled at the hours he’d keep for no obvious deadline reason.
They would arrive the next morning to find printouts on their desks with post-it notes saying that they were editorials he had written and asking them to check his facts.
Former Capital Gazette reporter Joshua Stewart said he kept every post-it note Fischman left on his desk. At the end of Stewart’s five years at the paper, his stack of Fischman’s identical post-its was three-quarters of an inch high.
“He was kind of a mysterious guy,” Stewart said. “He wasn’t social, and this was the most interaction we had with him. It was a testament to his work. We used to joke that he had them printed in mass.”
Fischman married late in life. He announced to the newsroom that he had met an opera singer from Mongolia online.
“We all nearly fell out of our chairs,” Marquardt said. “We never expected Gerald to get married, let alone to an opera star.”
A conversation with Fischman could turn in unexpected directions as he drew on a peculiarly curated knowledge of the world.
“He had an encyclopedia knowledge of everything from the philosophy to who knows what,” said Brian Henley, a retired editor.
Anne Arundel County and Annapolis politicians were impressed and intrigued by Fischman.
“He was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the political dynamics of the community,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. “ He was a bit of a loner, but was very, very intelligent. He was a respected writer and captured, for the most part, the feelings within the community.”
He also could set local politicians on edge.
“Gerald was a phenomenally smart man,” former two-term Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit said.
“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,” he said. “He asked tough questions and exposed every weakness in my legislative record. He treated council races like they were presidential races.”
Former features editor Kathy Flynn said Fischman used a hand-held crowd counter to count the number of words he’d written in an editorial.
“He was the consummate newspaper professional,” she said. “He took ultimate care, he made sure that every sentence was exactly what he wanted to say.”
Colleagues would affectionately toy with Fischman’s penchant for precision.
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“He liked his blinds just so,” Flynn said. “We’d mess with him by going in his office and making them askew.”
And in his workmanlike approach to the job, Fischman never joined in the traditional newsroom grousing about the hours, the conditions, the deterioration of the news business, management, or even having to write an editorial about Christmas every year, even though he was Jewish.
“He never complained about it,” Flynn said. “The rest of us would be griping left and right, and he never said a word.”
Fischman, a 1979 graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, was honored annually with regional writing awards.
At an awards event shortly after Fischman’s marriage, Stewart and another reporter asked him how he met his wife.
“I typed ‘Mongolian opera singer’ into a dating site,” he deadpanned.
And then he had nothing more to say about it.