Jeff Zaslow: A man of many words, but too few years


“Write, design and create a piece of work from your career field of interest which you can be proud of.”

This was an assignment given to me (and 25 other college students) by our english professor; a man well-known and respected for his unique style of teaching. Rather than following textbooks and shuffling spoon-fed students through a series of lectures, “Dr. Bill” challenged his students to think about their passion in writing/design and apply it to the “real world”.

I was up for the challenge, and frankly, drawn to this particular assignment because there were no boundaries or guidelines; just a world full of possibilities. Writing for the university newspaper at the time, I was keen to the profession of journalism. My first thought was to interview my Dad who has been in sports writing for over 30 years. Too easy.

When given the assignment, I also had just finished reading “The Last Lecturea best-selling  book written by Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Zaslow. There was something about his writing I admired and wanted to learn more about. So, after some hesitation, I decided to try my luck at emailing the now popular author in hopes of receiving a response in enough time to turn in my assignment. A few days later, I received a response from Jeff inviting me to set up some time for us to chat.

In my car, parked in a university parking lot, I sat in the driver’s seat holding a yellow notepad in one hand, cell phone in the other. My hands shook with nerves as I dialed his phone number, but once he answered, his relatable personality made me feel as though I was talking to an old friend. I continued probing him with interview questions for the next half hour – some for the school project and others just out of curiosity. I took diligent notes, submitted a solid piece of work for class and followed up by sending him a copy.

In the years following college, I have had the good fortune and opportunity of engaging with Jeff over email. Like a true professional and polished mentor, he always responded and his words always left me feeling encouraged and inspired to keep writing.

During a phone call with a close friend, I was saddened to learn Jeff Zaslow was killed in a weather-related car accident this morning in northern Michigan at the age of 53. His death comes after recently releasing a new book “The Magic Room“, a story inspired by his love for his three daughters and wife.

In a recent interview promoting his book, he said “…my job as a father is not to tell my daughters what dress to wear, not to tell them what to do. My job is to tell my girls I love them. And Sherry, that I love her, too, obviously…..when I hug my kids now, what a gift it is to be able to do that. And that’s sort of the story I’m telling in this book,which is we’ve got to hug our kids and make the most of each moment, because you never know.”

Thank you, Mr. Zaslow, for  inspiring so many people through your unique style of writing and understanding of human interaction. May your humility live on and continue to inspire future generations for many years.

And, thank you for taking the time to share your story – as part of my college project and for the years following. Let me tell you, I am certainly proud.


Andy Rooney: Cheers to Writing


Credit: Flickr, Tumbleweed

Former writer and well-known “60 Minutes” commentator, Andy Rooney, recently passed away at the age of 92. About a month before his passing, he said goodbye in the best way he knew how – by sharing his opinion on life, being famous and writing.

He complained about being famous, but said he can’t complain about his life.

While in high school, an English teacher told him he was a good writer. It was encoragement which would shape Rooney’s 70-year writing career, and impact the rest of the world at the same time.

It’s times like now, as journalism is getting a face-lift into a new era of digital communications, we need to listen to stories from those like Rooney – the charming, yet straightforward 70 and 80-something’s –  to remind us what it means to be a writer. It’s not about the latest and greatest technologies or even about how news and publications are delivered or recieved. It is, however, about going back to the basics.

As Rooney shares in his last video, he wrote for an Army newspaper during World War II called Stars and Stripes. He then went on to work for television and radio. He continues by saying some people have the voice for radio and the face for television. But, they also need someone to write what they said in a way others could understand it. One of the classic principles of writing.

So, rather than getting caught up in the daily hoopla about the latest iPad, the newest social network or the new journalism courses in colleges, let’s go back to the basics and remember what writing is all about. It’s about thumbing through content and reorganizing, rewording and writing in a way readers can best understand.

According to Rooney, writing is also about:

  • Saying what readers want to know or are thinking about;
  • Telling the truth. There aren’t many original thoughts in this world and it’s a writer’s job to articulate the truth;
  • Writing. He says “writer’s don’t retire. They will always be a writer

I, too, was encouraged by an educator (in college) to follow the path of writing and I’m thankful for that. And, I’m thankful to people like Andy Rooney, who are teachers to writers everywhere, for sharing their wisdom and for reminding us that while the way we communicate may change, the value of the written word will never go away.