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Erika A. Niedowski, a former Sun foreign correspondent and 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist, dies

Erika A. Niedowksi was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2004 for a story about an 18-month child who died as a result of medical mistakes.
Erika A. Niedowksi was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2004 for a story about an 18-month child who died as a result of medical mistakes. (Baltimore Sun)

Erika A. Niedowski, a former Sun foreign correspondent and Moscow bureau chief who was a 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist and later worked for The Associated Press, died Friday of undetermined causes at Rhode Island Hospital two days before her 47th birthday.

“Erika had tested negative twice for COVID-19, but did have some COVID symptoms near the end, so we’re waiting for the results of an autopsy,” said her father, Raymond Niedowski, of Marshfield, Massachusetts.

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“Erika’s stories reflect what a superb reporter, writer and colleague she was and the vibrancy, exuberance and passion she had for journalism,” said William K. Marimow, former editor-in-chief of The Sun. "And she had a smile that lit up the newsroom back in the days when we worked together. She had a certain impishness and elfishness that enriched the newsroom.”

Mr. Marimow, a Philadelphia resident, added: “She brought enthusiasm and energy to her stories and a commitment to do good work. She had a great sense of humor and was a person who did not take herself too seriously.”

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Robert S. Ruby, the Sun’s last foreign editor, was Ms. Niedowski’s editor.

“She had a really good eye for both the important and the different, and that’s something you see in the very best reporters. She was curious about people and places,” said Mr. Ruby, a Roland Park resident.

“Erika followed distinguished predecessors in Moscow, and liked swimming in the deep end. She took on topics that needed explaining like an AIDS prevention program, government shakedowns, bribes, and even a story about a small theater troupe of 30 cats that jumped through hoops.”

Candus “Candy” Thomson, a longtime Sun reporter, editor and outdoors columnist, was a close newsroom friend.

“She just was always so full of joy, pep and vigor, and no matter how draggy you were, you’d always get a jolt of energy from Erika. Her laughter was earthy and hearty. Newsrooms can get gloomy, but she was always uplifting and a good colleague,” said Ms. Thomson, a Sandwich, Massachusetts, resident. “She always made a joyful noise.”

Ms. Thomson added: “She always had good sources, and if she didn’t, she was going to get them. Erika was hardworking and could handle anything, and she was not impressed by people with titles.”

She recalled Ms. Niedowski as being the "perfect colleague.”

“If you asked her for help, she never turned you down and was always willing to make a call for you,” Ms. Thomson said.

Erika Ann Niedowski, daughter of Raymond Niedowski, a transportation planner, and his wife, Marion E. Niedowski, a financial consultant, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Marshfield, where she graduated in 1991 from Marshfield High School.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in 1995 and a master’s degree in public policy from Tufts University.

Before coming to The Sun in 1998, Ms. Niedowski was webmaster for The Hill, a political website in Washington, and earlier had worked for Congressional Quarterly, Washington City Paper and the National United Arab Emirates.

Ms. Niedowski’s first Sun byline was Sept. 2, 1998, when she wrote a business story about the Maryland pension system. She subsequently was on the education and medical beats before being posted as bureau chief in Moscow in September 2005.

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“We shared the medical beat for a few years in the early 2000s and during that time we worked hand in glove,” said Jonathan Bor, who was a Sun medical reporter until 2008, and for the past 11 years has been senior editor at Health Affairs.

“We did our own separate stories, but If I was working a story, she’d volunteer to help out. We were beat buddies and had a very easy relationship," said Mr. Bor, a Baltimore resident.

“She injected energy, spirit and humor into her stories, and had a strong sense of professionalism in everything she did, and she did it without fanfare or drama, and her copy always had the right touch," he said. “There was never any hype or sensationalism, and she always delivered her streamlined prose on time.”

He added: “She was a lot of fun to work with, and 20 others in the newsroom would say the same thing, that she had a big laugh and a great sense of humor.”

Ms. Niedowski was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in explanatory reporting in 2004 for a story she had written about Josie King, an 18-month child who had been scalded, and died as a result of medical mistakes while being treated at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Taking over as bureau chief in Moscow in 2005, Ms. Niedowski had a variety of stories to cover.

“It was very demanding and hard work. She had to generate sources,” Mr. Ruby said. “She covered state funerals, economic boycott and the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.”

Ms. Politkovskaya had been a constant and unrelenting critic of President Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin.

“A well-known Russian journalist who reported critically, relentlessly and fearlessly on everything from the Kremlin’s policy in Chechnya to corruption in the military was shot dead yesterday, officials said, the latest in a string of killings of reporters in recent years," Ms. Niedowski wrote.

“A neighbor found the body of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow, a handgun and four bullets nearby, Russian news agencies reported.”

She reported that Putin’s response was simple and direct: “a ‘tragic death.’”

Ms. Niedowski earned a permanent footnote in Sun history when Tribune Co., corporate parent of the newspaper, decided in 2006 to close its Johannesburg and Moscow bureaus by the end of 2007.

It befell to Ms. Niewdowski to ring down the curtain of The Sun’s tradition of maintaining foreign correspondents that began in 1887.

Her last byline for The Sun was a story she had written that carried a Paris dateline from Dec. 17, 2007, about a legal drug dealer, Dr. Jean-Pierre Aubert, who prescribed buprenorphine to help addicts afflicted with opiate addiction.

After leaving Baltimore and moving to Providence, Ms. Niedowski was an acting correspondent and reporter for the AP, where she was responsible for anchoring coverage of the Rhode Island State House.

At her death, she was Northeast director for Solar Access, a coalition that promotes solar energy as a clean alternative fuel.

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Ms. Niedowski was an avid Boston Bruins fan and skated with a female hockey team. She was a cat fancier, liked to ride her bike, and was addicted to cheese — any kind of cheese — family members said.

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“As a person she was very adventurous and a real doer,” Mr. Bor said. “When she got curious about something, she learned how to do it. She wanted to learn how to weld and took a welding course.”

“She was wiser than her years,” said Jamie Stiehm, of Washington, a former Hill colleague and former Sun reporter who is now a Washington columnist for Creators Syndicate. “Even though she was here for a short time, she saw a lot of the world, and moved through life vibrantly and lightly."

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete because of the pandemic.

Ms. Niedowski is survived by her parents, a sister, Nancy Welsh of Albany, New York; and her partner and companion of seven years, Patrick Laverty. An earlier marriage to Christopher Council ended in divorce.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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