Goodbye to Glen Nishimura

Julie and I were in D.C. for a Religion Newswriters Conference when Cathy Grossman–legendary USA Today writer on the religion beat–toured us through USA Today headquarters, very like a shining city on a hill.

Bright inside also from the high-wattage minds of writers and editors like Glen Nishimura, head of the op-ed page. In any newspaper, the op-ed runs opinions, staff and guest essays, political cartoons, and letters to the editor. It’s one of every paper’s most-read sections.

For years, Glen and I had worked together by phone and email only. He first contacted me around 2008, wanting a quote from Bishop T.D. Jakes about the housing-loan crisis. After that, I would pitch him the occasional bylined column from a current client.

Once I called him with a non-client story about a woman I’d met, now in her 90s. As a child, she had been the subject of what became an iconic photo related to U.S. internment of Japanese during World War II. In that call, Glen told me his own family’s stories interment in California, and that he planned to write about it.

The times I called or emailed Glen, I could never presume a yes, but I could always expect an answer, a professional reason for the no, respect for my efforts. That day outside D.C. with Cathy Grossman, when she led us through the labyrinth to Glen’s desk, I met a brilliant introvert, a master who quietly went about putting out top-line work–and a man proud of his children. After we met, he sent a lovely email about friendships formed with people he’d never met. No doubt I was one of many.

Few blows hit like the premature loss of a good person, in this case a man whose work was his calling, and whose life, even in small professional connections, affected people like me.

Some journalists consider PR people opportunists and pitches a nuisance. I’ve noticed, however, that the best journalists, men and women at the tops of their professions, know the value of a good source and use it to benefit all sides. Glen is one whose work and kindness also lifted my work.

-Nancy Lovell