William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNewsnet
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (March 6, 2019)--Gloucester City resident and obituary writer Jim Nicholson, who died recently, was interviewed 30 years ago by FRESH AIR radio host Terry Gross from West Virginia Public broadcasting. It is an intriguing interview. His friends will enjoy hearing his voice once again. The article and the podcast were published on March 1, 2019.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. There was a time when newspaper obituaries focused mostly on the rich and famous. Jim Nicholson changed that. The obit writer for the Philadelphia Daily News made the so-called common man obituary an art form and soon had imitators around the country. Nicholson died last week at the age of 76. In his 19 years on the beat, Nicholson subjects included an ice hauler, a trash truck driver, housewives and domestics. He told their stories with vivid details, not all of them flattering. But he wrote about them with respect and found all of them interesting. Terry spoke with Jim Nicholson in 1987.
Further into the 17 minute podcast present day radio host Dave Davies, who worked with Jim many years ago, talks with reporter David Gambacorta who wrote Jim's obituary for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer.
DAVIES-As it happens, I knew Jim Nicholson. My 20 years at the Daily News overlapped with his time there, and I remember he always seemed a little mysterious. He'd disappear from the newsroom for months at a time and never really explained why he was gone. He was a consummate gentleman always dressed in a dark suit. He had a thin mustache and a face described as kind of a poor man's Clark Gable. That phrase came from his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News written by my friend and former colleague David Gambacorta. He knows where Nicholson was when he disappeared from the newsroom. Turns out, he was as interesting as the people he wrote about.
GAMBACORTA: So one of Jim's former colleagues in the military recalled arriving in Panama and finding Jim really being in charge of this counter drug operation even though he was not the top ranking official. In fact, he actually had people who outranked him working for him. And as it was explained to me, this is, you know, all but an impossible scenario to find in military operations. You know, it'd be very, very rare to have someone taking orders from a person that they outrank. But Jim had this sort of no-nonsense way about him and projected, I think, that he was just very much there for all the right reasons and was only interested in making their mission a success.
DAVIES: He was summoned out of retirement by none other than (General) David Petraeus. And Jim was 66 years old at this point. And from everything I gathered from his friends and from his family - did not really hesitate at all and, you know, within a few months was in Iraq and helping the military track activity of insurgents in the area.
The thing that his son remarked on, and a number of Jim's friends brought up, too, was the fact that he had been married for some time, and he and his wife were separated for quite a while. But in the late 1990s, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And Jim actually moved back in with her and took care of her for the remaining years of her life. And that blew all of them away - you know, that sort of loyalty and dedication even though their relationship had soured considerably. But he didn't hesitate, you know? And as he told his son and told his friends, you know, he just believed that this was the right thing to do. And it didn't bother him. He didn't see it as a burden. And I think it really speaks volumes about the character that he had.