If veteran Capital Gazette editorial writer Gerald Fischman could have chosen what he would be doing on the last day of his life, this was it:
He was a newspaperman.
Mr. Fischman, longtime editorial page editor for The Capital, was killed June 28 in the attack on the newspaper’s Annapolis office. He was 61.
"You know the cliche, still waters run deep? That was Gerald,” said Rick Hutzell, editor of the Capital Gazette newspapers. “He was thoughtful, witty, dedicated to his craft — all the things you hear other people say. But he also had a strong sense of what was moral and what was right.”
“He was a wonderful person and really quiet, but if you took the time to get to know him you discovered how brilliant he was and his extraordinary dry wit,” said Teri Winslow, a former Capital Gazette writer, editor and State House correspondent who sat next to him for 20 years.
“He was a walking encyclopedia of Maryland history and just plain facts. His desk was overrun with books,” said Ms. Winslow, a Hanover resident who is now digital news manager for the state Department of Transportation.
“At night, Gerald wrote his editorials and when he was finished, would help me proof the paper…. He never missed anything, and if we found something funny we’d crack up and double over laughing,” she said.
“When he finished an editorial he’d read it out loud to check its cadence, and had a clicker he used to count the words,” she recalled. “He was incredibly thorough.”
Gerald Fischman was born in Washington, the son of Morton and Charlotte Fischman. He was a year old when the family moved to Silver Spring.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Fischman attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1979. During his college days he was an editor for The Diamondback, the university’s student newspaper.
He began his career in 1980 as a reporter at The Carroll County Times and later was promoted to copy editor. Edward J. “Mac” McDonough, public information officer for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, was sports editor of The Times during Mr. Fischman’s tenure there.
“Fisch, we always called him that, was very meticulous, quiet and gifted, with a wry sense of humor,” said Mr. McDonough, a Towson resident who was later an editor on The Baltimore Sun’s old Carroll County edition.
“As the chaos of deadline approached, he’d come up with some wry observation, and then he’d go back to work. This happened fairly frequently,” he said. “He was a great copy editor; the paper would never have gotten out on time without him.”
He recalled Mr. Fischman as being “not gregarious… but very engaging when talking to you. [He] was not the kind of guy who’d go out for a drink with the staff after the paper was put to bed.”
In 1990 he joined the staff of The Montgomery Journal in Rockville. He did a two-year stint as a copy editor, then was promoted to assistant city editor.
Ron Jones was a friend of Mr. Fischman’s for more than 30 years. They had worked together at The Carroll County Times and later The Montgomery Journal.
“As an editor, Gerald was incredibly thorough and always had tons of questions for reporters unless their pieces were incredibly well-written, which was not often,” said Mr. Jones, a Gaithersburg resident who is a night copy editor for The Washington Post. “He rarely got upset or raised his voice and was always calm, collected and very detailed-oriented.
“He wanted stories to be as objective and accurate as possible,” he said. “He wanted to know their core themes and that everything made sense, and it was the same with his editorials.”
Mr. Fischman went to work for The Capital in 1992, and quickly developed a reputation for his trenchant, hard-hitting and fact-laden editorials that reflected the newspaper’s community temperament and roots. Mr. McDonough said his colleague “found his niche” at The Capital.
“When he had an idea for an editorial, he’d parse every word and check every fact,” he said. “That he was a survivor for more than 30 years in the business is a testament to who he was.”
Mr. Fischman’s work earned him numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association — including two recent honors for editorials related to the case involving a noose found at a Crofton school, and a piece about censorship at County Council meetings. He also received awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press, as well as Mark Twain Awards for Outstanding Editorial, Best Editorial and Best of Show Editorial.
Mr. Fischman brought an unflappable nature and strong work ethic to the newsroom. Long hours and days were not uncommon, and he steered clear of debates over long hours, low pay and where newspapers will be in 10 years — or in 10 minutes.
“When deadlines approached and things were going on, Gerald never panicked,” recalled Mr. Jones. “He was the kind of person who always kept his cool. He was level-headed.”
“He was a human search engine and did he know Maryland politics,” Ms. Winslow said. “He was so loved by his colleagues.”
“I've have the difficult task of trying to write in Gerald's place,” Mr. Hutzell said. “I've written four editorials so far, and before I start every one I ask myself: What would Gerald say? I wish I had half the insight into our community and human nature that he brought to the job every day."
Mr. Fischman had lived most of his life as a confirmed newspaper bachelor, and surprised his colleagues when he announced some years ago that he had fallen in love and was marrying the former Saran Erdenebat, a noted opera singer from Mongolia.
He had met the lyric soprano at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts while attending a performance of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure.” They were married shortly thereafter.
The Pasadena resident who enjoyed collecting books and reading was also a classical music, opera and ballet fan.