Capital Gazette's John McNamara eulogized as exemplary reporter who loved sports, community journalism

A St. John’s College High School diploma, Class of ‘79. A letter from former Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, saying of his 2008 team, “We have a chance to be young and good next year.” A ticket to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Hersheypark.

Bits and pieces of the life of John McNamara were all over the University of Maryland, College Park Chapel Tuesday. They illustrated his passions for sports, journalism, the University of Maryland, classic rock and his family, though perhaps not in that order. They were mementos of a life lived well and fully, cut short by a killer’s blind rage.

McNamara, 56, a sports writer and editor for the Capital Gazette newspapers for more than two decades, was one of five victims of the June 28 rampage at the Capital Gazette offices in Annapolis. Also slain were editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; assistant editor Rob Hiaasen, 59; sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34; and reporter Wendi Winters, 65. A 38-year-old Laurel man, Jarrod Ramos, has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.

On Tuesday, McNamara was eulogized during a 90-minute memorial service in College Park attended by more than 300 people, including co-workers, family and even some of the people he wrote about — such as Williams.

Fellow sportswriter and editor Gerry Jackson of The Baltimore Sun, which owns The Capital, and formerly of The Capital, remembered his longtime friend as someone who would always help a young reporter learning the ropes, or lend a hand to a harried colleague.

“He never left the office without first asking, ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ ” said Jackson, pausing to get the words out. “He was so considerate.”

Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson, whose relationship with McNamara also goes back decades, said he always appreciated his skills as a reporter — skills that included being fair and nonpartisan and getting his facts straight.

“John was an honest man and a straightforward reporter,” Robinson said in one of several eulogies given from the chapel altar, “a shining example of his chosen profession.”

Johnny Holliday, beloved by fans as the voice of the Terps, remembered McNamara as someone who knew what it meant to be a journalist for a community newspaper, and loved it.

“He especially loved covering kids’ games, and giving those little kids the chance to see their names in the newspaper,” Holliday said in his eulogy.

Shortly after graduating from UM, McNamara took a job covering sports for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail in 1983. He joined The Capital in 1987 as a copy editor, then worked for the Prince George’s Journal from 1989 to 1994. He rejoined The Capital — hired back by Jackson, then the paper’s sports editor.

Several tables in the chapel’s entranceway displayed tokens of McNamara’s life and career. The Springsteen ticket, which Jackson had purchased. The certificate from the St. John’s ROTC. A book about Terps basketball, “Cole Classics,” that McNamara wrote with David Elfin. A press pass for the first game at Washington’s MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) — Dec. 2, 1997, pitting the Wizards against the Sonics.

And up on the altar, a slide show presented images of McNamara’s life. There he was as a youngster; there was his high school yearbook picture. There was picture after picture with his wife of 33 years, Andrea Chamblee, whom he had met while both were UM students.

There were pictures of him laughing and being hugged, pictures of him celebrating with friends. One photograph showed him standing next to what looked like a giant, smiling bag of french fries, another of him wearing a silly green hat, the kind you can only get away with on St. Patrick’s Day.

One of the final photographs showed the makeshift memorial his colleagues made for him in the press box at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one that included a copy of The Capital that was published the morning after he was killed. Another showed the ballpark scoreboard, displaying his picture along with those of his fellow victims.

McNamara was an editor and reporter for the Bowie Blade-News and Crofton-West County Gazette when he was killed.

Although the chapel was filled with journalists honoring one of their own — more than a third of the crowd raised their hands when one of the eulogists asked how many journalists were in attendance --- McNamara’s life was clearly about more than newspapers. Speakers praised his encyclopedic knowledge not only of sports, but of movies and classic rock. Jackson recalled that, when he and his wife, Nancy, considered going to a movie, they’d usually end up asking McNamara “what movie he and Andrea saw last weekend.” That was all the recommendation they’d need.

And as a lover of classic rock, McNamara doubtless would have appreciated that his memorial service was bookended by two of the genre’s most beautiful, and most hopeful, songs. As his ashes were carried into the chapel, The Beatles’ “In My Life” played. And the service ended with an emotional rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“Johnny Mac was my kind of guy,” Holliday said of the fellow Terps fan he’d known for more than 30 years. “What was there not to like about John?”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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