As autumn 2009 approached and steamy summer made reluctant retreat, the news reaching us at College Park closely followed the changing seasons--turning autumnal, a season marked by the passing of friends, departures that rob our days of ever so much light.
News came first of the death of Jessica Hobby Catto, 72, on September 30, after a long struggle with colon cancer. She died at "her beloved ranch" in Woody Creek, Colorado, the Aspen Daily News reported. She was devoted to the ranch--set in a beautiful upland valley outside Aspen, whose meadows she planted with native flowers, a profusion of color beyond any Impressionist's palette.
Jessica Catto was a passionate force of nature whose enthusiasms included global conservation, journalism and the Democratic Party (not always in that order). She was born into Texas-sized politics: her father, William P. Hobby Sr., governor (1917-21); her mother, Oveta Culp Hobby, the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, under President Eisenhower; her brother, William P. Jr., a lieutenant governor.
But she also was born into journalism: Her family owned the Houston Post, and her newspaper upbringing never left her. She wrote for the Washington Post, and when her husband, Henry, was U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, she wrote for the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times. She published a novel and a poetry collection.
In 1980, she and Henry became the owners and publishers of a struggling periodical about newspeople, newsrooms, the news industry: Washington Journalism Review (renamed American Journalism Review in 1993). They poured money, energy and time into their magazine, determined to take it to the front ranks. After seven adventuresome years, now yearning to stabilize its future, Jessica and Henry literally gave the magazine to the University of Maryland and the willing hands of Reese Cleghorn, the College of Journalism's dean at the time and himself a former editor and reporter.
The Cattos more than proved their devotion to the magazine, giving $800,000 over the next few years to support its continuing adventures.
But that chapter did not end Jessica's journalism: At the end of her life, Jessica Catto was blogging for The Huffington Post--about Democrats, conservation, news...and Republicans.
Barely three weeks after her passing, on October 21, we heard from a close friend of the College, journalist Barbara Matusow, of the death of her husband, Jack Nelson, 80, at their home in Bethesda, Maryland, from pancreatic cancer. Jack was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and longtime Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, whose work and leadership helped raise his paper to the nation's front ranks.
He likewise helped Reese Cleghorn raise Philip Merrill College to the nation's front ranks. A charter member of the College's distinguished Board of Visitors who served from 1983 to 2001, he was always ready with advice and ideas of use to Reese.
Jack Nelson was a reporter's reporter who burned with determination to find out facts that governments and the powerful did not want revealed. He thought the world of journalism--a hard kind of work that could make a difference. A number of obituary articles included this 2004 quote from Jack:
"A reporter likes to pride himself on being as objective as he can, and...tell both sides of the story," he once said. "Well, there's hardly two sides to a story of a man being denied the basic right to vote. I mean, where do you get the other side?... There's no two sides to a story of a lynching--a lynching is a lynching."
We mourn their passing.