An open letter to the Jerry Gillam Scholarship Winner from his family
Jerry would be the first to give a loud “Yes!” and a fist pump as your name is announced today for this Sacramento Press Club honor. He was a champion of learning in many forms, especially higher education. He was also a one-on-one mentor over his 35 years as a news reporter for the LA Times, Capitol Bureau. And in retirement, he was a cheerleader for the disabled among whom he found himself, on the final leg of his learning journey, which ended April 11, 2009.
He knew from the time he was a kid delivering the LA Times in Glendale, CA, that he wanted to be a reporter. After some college and four years in the Air Force, he returned to So Cal and began writing for Copley Press, then started in 1960 for the Times Sacramento Bureau, where he spent 35 exciting years. Active in the Capitol Correspondents Association and for years considered dean of the Capitol press corps, Jerry enriched the lives of many, a few of them recalling here his impact on them:
• When I started interning at the LA Times Sacramento Bureau in 1981, Jerry became my mentor. It was a bit unnerving for me since Jerry was several inches taller than me and a whole lot more demonstrative. But he took me under his wing. He introduced me to legislative reporting — and not the glamorous stuff. He introduced me to stacks and stacks of campaign contribution reports at the FPPC, long before electronic filing, Microsoft Excel and search functions. It was tedious stuff, but it taught me what to look for, who to look for and how detail matters. He showed me the Capitol, even the dingy temporary quarters of both houses before they moved into their fancy renovated chambers. He taught me how to cover a legislative session, the people I needed to learn about, the rhythms of the place. –Herbert A. Sample
• Jerry kept the institutional memory in the Los Angeles Times bureau and shared his knowledge and sources with younger reporters. He was always upbeat. We’re not going to see his like again. — Mark Gladstone
• Jerry’s next question often came straight from what was just said…. proving again the great ones are those who listen carefully and then ask. I can see him now, putting aside the pencil, saying “Do you mean to tell me….” — John Jervis
• Jerry was indeed a classy guy, an old school reporter who almost single handedly covered the Capitol for the Times a half-century or so ago. — Dan Walters
• I’ll miss knowing he’s in Sacramento, but I bet he and Squire Behrens–the press corps “deans”–will be watching from some empyrean news room, with laughter, wise cracks and affection.– Tracy Wood
• As Deputy Press Secretary to Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy, I came to appreciate Jerry’s lack of interest in endless political insider musings and his insistence on getting to the facts and getting them straight. He would often charge into the press office like a mad bull and bark questions with a bit of bluster. By the time he left, both of us would usually be laughing. When we instituted weekly press “availabilities” with McCarthy, it was Jerry’s voice that would end the session with “Thank you, Mr. Speaker” with near perfect timing. In the late ’70s, Jerry and I took some courses together at CSU, Sacramento, in the evenings. Our professor in a communications studies course sometimes pitted Jerry and I against each other in class, knowing we both worked in the Capitol. Once Jerry and I were selected to compete against each other to persuade a group of fellow students of the merits of our proposal. I remember wanting to win but feeling that I shouldn’t prevail over the Dean of the Capitol Press Corps. We both got an A. Jerry, it was an honor and a pleasure — A+ — Carol Benham
• It was a surprise to learn, in the sad e-mail postings [of his death] this week, that Jerry was only a year or so younger than me. For nearly 50 years he always seemed much younger. Jerry had, and kept, a special boyish quality–boyish eagerness, boyish glee. Age, disease and disability did not diminish that. — Mike Fallon
• He was a great colleague who shared his enthusiasm, energy and Capitol stories – boy, did he have some good ones – with his bureau-mates. I remember the pleasure I had watching him, all aglow, as he walked down the aisle of the Assembly, which honored him for his long tenure as “The Dean.” I also remember those big, fat pencils he used. I remember how he loved Notre Dame football and loved to talk about it on Monday mornings. I remember the picture he showed me of when he was a high school basketball player. What I remember most of all, though, is what a great guy he was. — Armando Acuna
• I agree with everything that has been said. The nicest guy I ever met in Sacramento, but hard-nosed as hell when he needed to be. — Dan Smith
• I have many memories of Jerry, but one of the best is also one of the first. When I moved to the LA Times Sacramento bureau in 1994, Jerry took me around the Capitol for a round of introductions and a backstage tour filled with colorful, historic and even shocking stories from his decades in the building. When we got to Speaker Willie Brown’s office, Jerry walked right past the lobbyists waiting on couches, waved hello to the receptionist and marched into Willie’s office with me in tow. It was clear that Jerry was more than just a reporter in that building, he was a formidable part of the institution. Reporters always have a privileged seat in a place like the Capitol. You get to know the personalities by sharing the long hours and travel as well as witnessing the amazing victories and the painful defeats. Sometimes you talk about your kids or sports or whatever. Jerry was having those experiences and relationships before some of the newer staff and legislators were born. Some who work that close to the sausage factory for a long time develop a crusty cynicism. And perhaps that’s where Jerry was so unique. He clearly had as much excitement and love for his work on his last day at The Times as I did on my first. When Jerry retired from The Times, I moved into his old desk and when I was pounding on his old keyboard on deadline, I often thought about how many times he did the same thing and how much he enjoyed it every time. — Dave Lesher
• For a half-dozen or so years, Jerry was president and I was vice president of the Capitol Correspondents Association. Since capitol reporters loathed Association meetings, just about everything the Association did was delegated to a committee of two, Jerry and me.
Whether it was protesting a closed meeting, considering the credentials application of a dubious “reporter” or anything else, Jerry and I almost always disagreed. But I can’t remember ever getting mad at each other. Jerry was too likeable and friendly for that to ever happen. Furthermore, it was really just an elaborate game. Whoever spoke first expected the other to disagree, and we always reached a friendly agreement. I will miss Jerry’s fun approach to life. The Capitol never had enough people in it who really enjoyed life. Sadly it now has one fewer. — Doug Willis
• A long, long time ago when I was a very shaky “cub” working nights in the city room, I remember having to take something we used to call “dictation” from Jerry on deadline after a very late legislative session. At the time I wasn’t the fastest typist and wasn’t all that familiar with the names and issues he was reporting on. His calm and KIND demeanor throughout what was a big deal and bigger ordeal for me what with night city editor Glenn “Bones” Binford staring over my shoulder, was something I never forgot, especially the fact that when he came to town he went out of his way to introduce himself to me. Jerry was a true pro and a gentle man through and through. — Tom Paegel
• Jerry will always be “The Dean” to me. No matter how crappy a hand he was dealt, he always responded with grace and optimism and good humor. — Jeff Raimundo
• I saw that spirit again at Bob Schmidt’s and Bob Fairbanks’ 80th birthday party last June. The man never grew cynical or discouraged, at least not publicly, over his diabetes challenges. In fact, he’d gotten much more openly emotional over the years and never hesitated to express his true feelings. I loved and admired him very, very much. My heart goes out to June and his children and grandchildren. He was a pillar and a dear friend! — Caren Daniels-Meade
• I know that a year from now, five years from now, when I think about Jerry – and I will – what I will remember first is his laugh. Jerry didn’t have a chuckle or a giggle, he had a laugh, and his whole body shook when he laughed, which was often. Even after he lost his leg. Certainly Jerry couldn’t have been blamed if he became bitter, or self-pitying, or grumbled out loud “Why me?” when his leg was amputated. He never did. When he learned that his family had been told that either the leg, which had an infection that could no longer be treated, had to be removed or he would die, and the family had said take the leg, he made sure his family knew he believed they had made the right decision. He liked being alive. –Bob Schmidt
Above are from http://jerrygillam.blogspot.com/ created by Rev. Jim Richardson in Jerry’s honor.