Gerald Fischman remembered as quiet, brilliant thought leader in Carroll

Gerald Fischman.
Gerald Fischman. (/ Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Gerald Fischman was a writer, an eccentric, a quiet wit and a consummate professional who spent almost 40 years penning deeply thought-out editorials and mentoring generations of journalists.

A reporter and editorial writer for the Carroll County Times throughout the 1980s, “the conscience and voice” of the Annapolis Capital Gazette since 1992, Fischman was a newspaperman for life.


“His whole life was newspapering, and quality newspapering,” said Ken Koons, staff photographer at the Carroll County Times since 1981, when Fischman, already working as a reporter, took Koons under his wing. “He was just such a brilliant guy and I just learned so much from watching him.”

That long career came to an end Thursday, when a gunman entered the Capital’s Annapolis newsroom and took the 61-year-old Fischman’s life, along with those of four of his colleagues.

“The news was numbing,” said Lloyd Batzler, who is currently the editor of the Howard County Times, but between 1984 and 1988 was the night editor at the Times. “Gerald was a special person, a great human being.”

Fischman was the first person Batzler met in the newsroom when dropping off his resume for the job, and he made an impression.

“Gerald was worldly beyond his years. He looked much older than he was — and favored cardigans and neckties, fashion from an earlier generation,” Batzler said. “Since he sometimes worked into the early morning hours, the building’s heat would drop back around midnight. Gerald had a pair of gloves — the fingers cut out so he could type — that he would wear. Quite a sight: Cardigan, tie and fingerless gloves.”

Gene Bracken, editor of the Carroll County Times from 1983 to 1988, also remembered Fischman as quietly brilliant, focused on his work, and never beholden to anyone else’s sense of style.

“The newsroom went to the Orioles game one time. It was the middle of July and Gerald came dressed like he was in the desert — every inch of his skin was covered,” Bracken said. “That’s Gerald. He was totally oblivious to what kind of impression he created, he didn’t care. He cared about his writing.”

In his editorials, especially, Fischman would find nuance and angles on topics that few other writers could, Bracken added, and both he and Batzler felt Fischman’s talent could have taken him to any large metro newspaper he wanted to, though he remained committed to smaller community news his entire career.

“He was just a brilliant writer,” Koons added. “One time he turned in a story and the editor at the time was copy editing it, and he yelled, ‘Gerald! You’re making me look like an idiot! I’ve had to look up five or six of your words already!’ ”

Ed McDonough, now with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency public information office, but sports editor for the Times in 1983 and ’84, recalls Fischman’s incredible precision in his work.

“I would have said he might have been the world’s best copy editor,” McDonough said. “Though the copy would never be by deadline, there would be no mistakes — he was incredibly meticulous.”

Though years have gone by, McDonough said he hopes that people in Carroll County will remember Fischman, and the effect he had on the community in his years at the newspaper.

“He did spend all of the ’80s there and made a real impact,” McDonough said. “He was what we would now call a ‘thought leader,’ though I don’t think that term existed back in the ’80s, doing five to six editorials a week.”

And yet, unlike many people in the news business, McDonough said, Fischman was never boisterous, but quiet, low-key and work-focused.


Fishman’s quiet demeanor almost kept him from a job — twice — as he had to apply more than once to get his positions at both the Times and, later on, the Capital. Bracken, who had an earlier stint with the Times in the late-’70s, recalls Fischman’s first interview

“He was always very low key, did not promote himself and so consequently, the editor then didn’t hire Gerald,” Bracken said. “I remember thinking, we should give this guy another chance, because his writing was really good.”

But it was in his mentoring of others and in setting a standard of quality that Fischman really stood out. Koons still remembers that example fondly.

“I was really green — I had only been there six months or whatever — and I would get something wrong, and he wouldn’t chastise me for it. He would simply say, ‘You really need to do it like this; this is really important and this is how you do it.’ And he would teach me,” Koons said. “I always felt privileged because I didn’t stand up to his quality. He was just brilliant and I couldn’t comprehend half the things that were in his brain.”

Decades later, former Carroll County Times reporter Kelcie Pegher made her own transition to the Capital — she is currently a digital editor with the Los Angeles Times — and Fischman was yet again a subtle and inspiring teacher.

“He would send emails if you did not get something right about AP Style. He would correct it and move on,” Pegher said. “After I left the Capital, I kept in touch with Gerald whenever I could. One particular day, I emailed him for the correct styling of macaroni and cheese. He replied within an hour with perfect logic to the right answer.”

Once on Saturday shift, Pegher took a closer look at the large collection of books — a Fischman trademark going back to his early days in Carroll County — that sat over his filing cabinet.

“I noticed they were marked by the Dewey decimal system and asked. They were from his personal library,” she said. “It was just like him.”

“I’ve never run across another journalist that knew him that didn’t admire him,” Koons said. “He was an outstanding human being, an outstanding journalist. He was the best, and I feel fortunate to have worked with him.”