Many folks who worked with Gerald Fischman at the Carroll County Times in the 1980s attended his funeral service on Sunday, July 8. They crowded into the chapel at the Judean Memorial Gardens in Olney with family, and former and current colleagues from far and wide — including writers from the University of Maryland Diamondback newspaper, and the Capital Gazette; some of whom were with Fischman the day he died.
In stoic, unedited sentences executed without the aid of semi-colons or adequate punctuation, many explained they got their start by working at the Times with Fischman — and how he was an integral component to their success.
Indeed, they had begun their extraordinary careers at the Carroll County Times. Many had traveled great distances that day to pay their respects. It was like a long overdue family reunion — for all the wrong reasons. They never lost sight of their roots. There is something about random senseless, illogical violence that democratizes everything.
Fischman, 61, an editorial page editor, was one of five staff members at the Capital Gazette who were murdered on June 28. Also killed were Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent; John McNamara, 56, a sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Rabbi Larry Shor officiated the memorial service. He began by saying, “We have gathered here today, with heads bowed and hearts broken, to pay final respect, honor, and tribute, to Gerald Jay Fischman. Cut down in the prime of his life by a heartless and monstrous evil. A terror which came upon him without warning and took his life in a cowardly and despicable act of senseless violence.”
Shor had known Fischman since childhood. He explained in his eulogy, Fischman was “Born in Washington D.C. on November 8, 1956, he was the only child of Morton and Charlotte Fischman, of blessed memory. He grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, part of that great postwar, close-knit Jewish community of Washington, that has sadly, faded into history…
“Gerald and I lived around the corner from each other and we went all through school from kindergarten to 12th grade together. It was one of those neighborhoods made famous on ‘The Wonder Years,’ with hundreds of kids in it. … One Yiddish word describes much of the life of Gerald Fischman and that word is ‘Bashert,’ which means pre-ordained or more simply, ‘meant to be.’”
Fischman was meant to be a great man, a person of integrity and honor in the world of the written word.
Everyone there had left their smiles on the cutting room floor, but one story the Rabbi told managed to break through the tension and gather a laugh.
“Gerald was as a child, the same person he was as an adult. Quiet and introverted, but extremely highly intelligent, he marched to the beat of his own drummer, and was quite happy to do so.
“One story I remember from childhood: Gerald carried an adult briefcase to school. Elementary school. If you knew Gerald then you know how it is possible for a 10-year-old to have done such a thing.”
Attending the funeral were past journalists who worked at the Times with Fischman, including Doug Tallman, Peter Khoury, Debbie Funk, Dennis McCafferty, and Lloyd Batzler.
Tallman wrote for the paper from 1985-87. Tallman now writes for Montgomery Community Media. Khoury was a cops, courts, and crime reporter from 1986-88. He now writes with the New York Times. Funk wrote for the paper from 1985-87. McCafferty was with the Carroll County Times from 1986-88. He later moved on to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and is presently vice president of content at Welz & Weisel Communications.
After the graveside services, folks milled about doing what journalists do best — telling stories with the occasional use of adverbs. Many of the stories were really funny. Others somber and poignant.
Tallman repeated a story he had told on his Facebook page on June 28, the day of the shooting. “I worked with Gerald at the Carroll County Times. I don’t think I’ve ever met a better writer.
“He had a breadth of knowledge surpassing any human being. He’d share a particularly fascinating fact, and your only reply would be, ‘Really?’ Then he’d look at you dumbstruck that you’d even consider he made a mistake, and reply, ‘Of course.’”
Fischman’s widow, Erika, a former opera singer and his daughter, Uka Saran, took the opportunity to share with the gathered mourners some of Fischman’s poetry. Which came as a surprise to nearly everyone in the chapel. Everyone knew he had, according to several media accounts, a “brilliant mind, wry wit, and ‘wicked pen’ that his colleagues [treasured,]” but few knew he wrote poetry.
Rick Hutzell, the Capital Gazette editor provided his prepared remarks to the Carroll County Times after the service.
Speaking at the service, he shared “some of the hundreds of thousands of words Gerald wrote for the Capital in his 26 years. During that time I am proud to say he was my friend, my fellow conspirator in tweaking public officials, a trusted ally in our work to protect our community by telling hard truths. … I’d like to you read you a few passages from one of my favorite writers. …”
Of local government, Fischman once wrote, “Stylized theatrical displays can be highly entertaining. The Japanese have been relishing Kabuki Theater for more than 400 years. The World Wrestling Federation has its fans. And, closer to home, we can look forward to an annual rhetorical pitched battle between the school system — led into combat by the superintendent and the county government with the county executive in the lead.”
Hutzell also caused many heads to nod in agreement when he shared another passage in which Fischman wrote, “Two months before he died, King said he wanted to be remembered as someone who lived ‘a committed life.’ There’s no question of that. The question, in 1968 and in 2018, is whether we are living committed lives — and is the greatness and unity of our nation, secure in its founding ideals, one of the things to which we are truly committed.”
Hutzell said it best for everyone, “The opinion pieces he wrote reflect his world view as much as that of any publisher or editor who walked through our doors in his time. His voice as a writer will be greatly missed. His wisdom cannot be replaced.”
Shor concluded the ceremony by saying, “… We pray that all the righteous and kind deeds that Gerald Fischman performed during his life will bring blessing upon his soul and that he rest in peace. T’hei Nishmoso Tzurur Bitzrur Ha Chayim. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life and let us say Omein.”