Terra Sigillata

Over at the WSJ Health Blog, Ron Winslow breaks the news that Jerry Bishop has passed away from lung cancer at age 76.

Winslow is an outstanding sci/med journalist in his own right and provides us with a detailed retrospective of Bishop’s career and his role as a science writing mentor. In his 42 years with the Journal, Bishop broke many critical stories with what Winslow describes as “uncommon clarity and insight”:

A page-one story published in 1966 included a spot-on prediction of what became the Internet–some three decades before the Web transformed communications…

…Another scoop was his report in 1992 that bacteria, not stomach acid, caused most ulcers. In the early 1980s, he was among the first journalists to report on a mysterious illness affecting gay men. But Jerry struggled initially to get his stories about what mushroomed into the AIDS epidemic into the paper because of editors’ squeamishness at the time about how to describe the sexually transmitted disease to readers.

The comment thread at Health Blog is already accumulating heartfelt memories from family, friends, and colleagues.

The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing has a lovely biography of the man they call a “legendary reporter.” On the personal side, they note that Bishop was a native of Dalhart, Texas, in the far northwestern panhandle of the state, a town one usually just passes through on the way from Amarillo to Denver:

Although he called New York City home for nearly four decades, Bishop remained a Texan through and through who displayed quiet professionalism, sported a signature ponytail, and wore bolo ties and cowboy boots with his suits. A fan of bluegrass music, upon retirement Bishop took up playing the banjo.

Alex Markels from NPR’s Morning Edition remarks in the Health Blog comments:

Being from the west myself, I took an immediate liking to the guy, and he, in turn, taught me one of my most valuable career lessons — that it ultimately didn’t matter what I looked like, or what school I went to, or what career pedigree (or lack thereof) I’d arrived with.

As Tim Carroll recounts above, for all the WSJ’s mystique, ‘it’s just a newspaper,’ so stop navel gazing and just do your best (and forget that thousands of readers are hanging on your every word).

Makes me wish I had the honor of working with the man.