Journalist Jeffrey Zaslow dies in car crash at 53

Journalist Jeffrey Zaslow, whose “beat” as a Wall Street Journal reporter, columnist, and author was the way regular people navigate the transitions and stages of their lives, died Feb. 10 at 53 in a car accident on a snowy road in northern Michigan on his way home from speaking about his newest book, “The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters,” about the clientele of a bridal store.

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Zaslow became a best-selling author in the last few years with books such as, "The Girls from Ames," about 10 women who have been friends for decades, and "The Last Lecture," which he co-wrote with Randy Pausch, whose lecture of that title came at Carnegie Mellon University after Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. Zaslow’s article, and a video of the lecture created an international sensation, which led to a best-selling book.

His journalistic home, the Wall Street Journal, said Zaslow had “a rare gift for writing about love, loss, and other life passages with humor and empathy.” The New York Times said Zaslow “was drawn to stories about people seeking meaning in their lives, often in the face of mortality.”

Zaslow won the position of advice columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times in 1987 after Ann Landers left the paper. Zaslow told the New York Times that when people told him he was underqualified for the position, he said to them: ‘I’m 28, but I have the wisdom of a 29-year-old.’ His column, “All That Zazz,” ran for more than 20 years and grew to include an annual singles party for charity that resulted in 78 marriages.

Zaslow also did a stint in 2009 as the author of “Bintel Brief,” the long-running advice column in the Forward, in which he wrote columns titled, “Help! My Adult Daughter’s a Schnorrer,” "Should We Invite My Alzheimer’s-Stricken Mother to Our Son’s Upcoming Bar Mitzvah?,” and “A JDate Love Triangle.”

Zaslow once wrote about his father’s experience as a Jewish American soldier at the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945:

For decades, my dad rarely spoke about the horrors he saw that day in 1945. But lately, he’s been obsessed with his memories. He gives Holocaust lectures at schools, and discusses anti-Semitism with anyone who will listen. My mother wishes he’d let the topic rest. As my dad talks, she often feels overwhelmed with emotion and asks him to stop. She keeps telling him she is living in the present. But truth is, World War II is a painful memory for her, too. Her brother had enlisted in the U.S. military, saying, "I’ve got to go. They’re killing Jews." His B-17 bomber was shot down, his body never found. It might be healing if more Jews moved on from the Holocaust by mastering a middle ground: pressing forward, but not forgetting.

A large new Holocaust museum is rising on a busy street in my community in suburban Detroit — replacing a far-smaller museum — and part of me is glad it’s there. Part of me wonders, though, what my non-Jewish neighbors think of this huge, sad structure, with prison-inmate stripes worked into its design. In the end, I was heartened to learn that most visitors to the current museum are non-Jews.

In 2011, he collaborated with Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, on their memoir, "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," following the congresswoman’s shooting. He is also the author of "Highest Duty," about airline captain Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a jetliner in the Hudson River in New York. Click here for a compilation of Zaslow’s best work.

Zaslow’s wife is Sherry Margolis, a anchor for Detroit’s WJBK Fox 2. They have three daughters.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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