Maryland Mourns Passing of Three Terp Journalists
John McNamara ’83, Gerald Fischman ’79 and Rob Hiaasen Were Among the Victims of Annapolis Newsroom Shooting
A dedicated Terps sports beat reporter and alumnus, another alum who wrote thoughtful editorials for decades and an adjunct professor known for his warmth and writing wit were among the five victims of yesterday’s mass shooting at an Annapolis newspaper office.
John McNamara ’83, Gerald Fischman ’79 and Rob Hiaasen (above, from left) were killed when a man who has a history of disputes with the Capital Gazette Newspapers opened fire on the newsroom Thursday afternoon, according to police.
“We’re heartbroken,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, which is named for the late owner and publisher of the Capital Gazette. “This was a senseless attack on journalists who worked hard to serve their community. We cannot stop thinking about our friends and colleagues in Annapolis and their families.”
McNamara, known as Johnny Mac, worked at the company from 1987–89, and again since 1998, covering Terps football and basketball for two decades. He was a rabid Maryland fan, but former basketball coach Gary Williams ’68 said he never sacrificed his objectivity as a reporter.
“He didn’t let his feelings about the school influence how he wrote articles,” he said. “He knew enough about the game, about coaching, about players that you were going to get a fair story.”
McNamara, who met his wife Andrea Chamblee ’83 at Maryland, first started covering the Terps for The Diamondback. He wrote a 2001 book with Dave Eflin on UMD men’s basketball, then in 2009 wrote another on Terps football.
Anne Turkos, university archivist emerita, worked closely with him on the “University of Maryland Football Vault” and considered him an encyclopedic resource. “He really lived and breathed Terps football and basketball,” she said.
For the past three years, McNamara had covered the communities of Bowie and Crofton and had to pull back from sports coverage. He was working on a new book, about the history of high school basketball in the Washington, D.C., area, giddy to be interviewing some of the greatest players and coaches.
“He stayed through ownership changes, layoffs and all that, and not only did he persevere, (but) he took on more work,” said Tom Marquardt, former editor and publisher of The Capital. “He just wouldn’t give up no matter what the industry threw at him.”
Fischman, who also worked for The Diamondback, was an award-winning editorial writer who began working at The Capital in 1992. Known for his cardigans, quirky hours and quiet personality, he would leave pointed, clear-eyed drafts on reporters’ desks each morning, accompanied by a Post-it Note, to be checked over for accuracy.
“He was always the last one to sign out, at 2 a.m.,” Marquardt says. “He was a relentless worker who was dedicated to his profession.”
Professor Emerita Maurine H. Beasley, who taught Fischman, said he made a strong impression on her as mature and well read. She wasn’t surprised he became an editorial writer. “He had a great understanding of current events and was the kind of person who could see both sides of an issue.”
Fischman’s talent caught the attention of Sean Mussenden M.A. ’00, a Merrill College lecturer and Capital News Service director, who grew up reading The Capital and interned there for nearly a year while in college.
“He was a very quiet but important presence in the newsroom,” Mussenden said. “He was a brilliant, incisive writer whose editorials carried a lot of weight in a community where that paper was important.”
Hiaasen, who taught news writing and reporting in Spring 2018 at Merrill College and was scheduled to do so again this fall, started working at The Capital in 2010 after 15 years as a feature writer at The Baltimore Sun. An indefatigable humorist and mentor, he helped lead a newsroom that was still reeling from layoffs and imbued it with a love for the day-to-day work of telling a community’s stories in the face of hard economic times.
“I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face,” said Abell Professor Sandy Banisky, who worked with Hiaasen at The Sun, where she previously was deputy managing editor.
Some time after that, Banisky invited Hiaasen to speak with students in her long-form writing class.
“I asked if he’d meet with students for an hour or so. He stayed for three,” Banisky said. “He was so enthusiastic and so encouraging — the same way he was when he sat at the lunch table in The Sun cafeteria and encouraged his friends in their work.”
Senior Lecturer Chris Harvey ’80 spoke with Hiaasen frequently this spring as he navigated his first semester as an adjunct lecturer. She said he was a natural—brimming with enthusiasm.
“He loved coming in here,” she said. “He had a gift for helping people … and bringing them up to the next level.”
In addition to McNamara, Fischman and Hiaasen, the two other Capital Gazette employees killed in the shooting were Wendi Winters, 65, a features writer who started out as a freelancer there nearly 20 years ago; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a recently hired sales assistant. Reporter Rachael Pacella ’13 was one of two injured employees. She did not suffer a gunshot wound and was treated and released from a local hospital, according to The Baltimore Sun, which owns the Capital Gazette.
Merrill College Communications Manager Alexander Pyles contributed to this story.