Monday, February 13, 2012

Miracle on the Hudson Co-Author Jeff Zaslow Dead at 53

Jeff Zaslow photo courtesy
This is the truth, Jeff Zaslow knew how to tell a story. This is critical skill for journalists to be sure but Jeff elevated it to award-winning levels and I mean that literally.

I met Jeff in 1987 when he was the surprising winner of a Chicago Sun-Times competition to select a successor to the internationally known advice columnist Ann Landers who was retiring. At the time, my husband worked at the Sun-Times and I was a television reporter at WGN-TV. Jeff was at the Sun-Times and married to a television journalist. For a while we both had commuter marriages and we laughed at the parallels in our lives.  
I did not know Jeff well, but over the years we’d be in touch about one thing or another and we had made tentative plans to meet up in Detroit next weekend when I have to be there on personal business. That meeting is not going to happen. Jeff died in a car accident on Friday, leaving a wife, three teen-aged daughters and countless others who know their lives were made richer by the stories Jeff wrote.

Randy Pausch and Zaslow photo courtesy
What Jeff knew that many journalists don’t is that writing is all about listening. In 2007 he heard a lecture delivered by Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch and went on to help him write the book-length version of the dying professor’s lessons on living. The Last Lecture has sold 5 million copies in English and has been translated into 48 languages. 

Jeff Zaslow helped tell the stories of the Arizona congressman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot by a would-be assassin in 2011 and Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot in command of the Miracle on the Hudson flight in 2009. Jeff’s ability to penetrate the hero worship that surrounded USAirways flight 1549 made the book Highest Duty which he co-wrote with Sullenberger an important work that went beyond the events of that day. 

I moved to Connecticut in 1993 and I became friendly with a neighbor, an avid reader and writer named John Robben.  Coincidentally John was a great fan of Jeff’s though the two men never met. John knew of my association with Jeff, so he would share with me some of what they corresponded about. In addition to the ideas they shared about the writing life, John was appreciative that Jeff always took time to answer his letters. 

So Jeff Zaslow’s death is sad news for John and for me and so many who encountered him or were touched by the stories he told. 

Last month, Jeff latest book The Magic Room was published. Set in a Michigan bridal salon; it is the story of the love parents hope their daughters will find. "I hope the reader will see their own daughters and their own lives as they read the book," Jeff says in a video released to promote The Magic Room. Once again, Jeff has written someone elses’ story but as the father of three girls, it is surely his as well.


Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Christine:

I read a lot in a small sub-genre, Aviator's Memoirs. Given the nature of the beast, a lot of these books are of the "written with" variety and nothing will ruin the experience more than a contributing author who, due either to an insufficiency of skill or an excess of ego, cannot suppress his/her own voice to let that of the principal be heard. Doing it the right way is, in contrast, a decidedly non-trivial exercise.

When I read "Highest Duty" I was very impressed by the way Jeff Zaslow quietly did his work. There were no fillips of literary "style", no little writerly exhibitions. Sully's fine, humane Texas voice was readable 5-by-5. Jeff Zaslow was a real pro.

I was saddened to read that Mr. Zaslow has Gone West. His legacy remains - not just in his own work but also in the works of others where he was present at, and essential to, the Creation. We're poorer for his loss.

Drive safely,


Jim Blaszczak said...


Thank you so much for recognizing the life of your friend Jeff on his tragic passing. Even though I should know Jeff's work because of "Highest Duty", I was unfamiliar until you shared it with us here.

I believe that each one of us is special. The Lord has a purpose for each and every one of us. Some of us might get to know a little of our impact while we are still here, but most never know their legacy. Would we be content if our lives made a profound difference in just one person's life? I believe we would all say yes. Jeff has and will continue to elevate people though his writing.

I have been blessed to have so many people enrich my life by their words and passion. Jeff will be one of those. I think only a man can truly understand a father's love for his daughters. It is a very special and complicated relationship. I have two, I know. I love them so much. His book will help many Dads like me explore that relationship in a way they never could have before. His own daughters will know their father's love in a way few ever do because of "The Magic Room". He is a blessing to us all.

May his family take comfort in the joy he brought to others and may he rest in peace.

Jim Blaszczak

DantheMan said...

Hi Christine.
I am very sorry for the loss of not only your friend, but for the loss of a good, compassionate person.
I read Highest Duty and have to say that the Author and Captain were both of integrity and morals.
Dan Delaney


Christine, nice blog on poor Jeff, Rest in peace, friend and email pal of mine, but.,..... here is my take, nobody takes me seriously but what is your POV on my POV? danny bloom, former Lake Union houseboat dweller, 1970s.......i am 63 now. ......Tufts 1971...i feel that the earlier commments are plain wrong, there is no Creation, and there is no God, and Jeff has not GONE WEST. baloney! he died a senseless and meaningless death in a freak car accident taht DID NOT HAVE To happen, and was NOT MEANT to happen. he was making 206 appearances a year, why? far from home, away from his wife and kids, why travel so much, he was a multimillionaire already frm his books. something or someone was pushing him and he went too far , there is a lesson here. nobody wants to hear it. Sigh.


Christine, one small proofreading note, correction: re: ''Jeff died in a car accident on Friday, leaving a wife, three teen-aged daughters.''

Three daughters, yes, but only one is a teenager, Eden, 16. The other two are 20 and 22, young adults, and all three are wonderful people! What a sad loss for them and their mom!

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