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“They Will Always Be Close to Our Hearts”

Merrill College Names Seminar Room for Capital Gazette Victims

By Alexander A. Pyles

Capital Gazette Memorial Seminar Room

Photo by John T. Consoli

Maria Hiaasen (left) and Andrea Chamblee '83, the widows of Capital Gazette shooting victims Rob Hiaasen and John McNamara '83, view the newly named Capital Gazette Memorial Seminar Room in Knight Hall yesterday.

Gathered in Knight Hall, the staff of the Capital Gazette yesterday accepted the second of two honors they would have rather gone without.

Time magazine that morning had announced the group as part of its 2018 Persons of the Year: “The Guardians and the War on Truth.” In the afternoon, they stood in a packed conference room in the UMD Philip Merrill College of Journalism as a seminar room was dedicated to the five people they’d lost in a newsroom shooting on June 28.

"We're very proud of our long relationship with Capital Gazette and very proud to remember the victims and survivors. ... They will always be close to our hearts. We hope you look to us for support and that you always feel welcome at Knight Hall,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, Merrill College dean.

A large plaque in the Capital Gazette Memorial Seminar Room in Knight Hall, used for classes, meetings and events, is intended to teach its visitors about Capital Gazette and the five people who gave their lives: Gerald Fischman ’79, Merrill adjunct lecturer Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara ’83, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

“They are all important figures in the history of community journalism,” Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell said of his colleagues. “Today’s dedication recognizes that, and I think they would all be proud of that as part of their legacy.”

That legacy includes lessons passed to the scores of young journalists who looked to the Capital Gazette staff members as mentors.

Hiaasen, who first taught a news writing class at Merrill College this past spring, would have completed his second semester by now. His widow, Maria Hiaasen, said the stacks of paper on his desk at their home showed his excitement — files were labeled “Quizzes!” and “Syllabus!” — and he had compiled a list of writers each of his students should read (Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Ta-Nehisi Coates).

“He did love the craft of journalism and the craft of writing,” she said. “And I know he would be damn proud and honored by what’s happened here.”

Erica Fischman said her husband, Gerald, “had dedicated his whole life and talent in journalism.” As an editorial writer, he saw himself as the voice of those who could not speak, and took great pride in that responsibility.

His words inspired the next generation — starting with his daughter, Uka Saran.

“He’s the reason of every success in my life and my career, to this day,” said Saran, a 2014 graduate of the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

McNamara, a sportswriter, also had a plaque in Xfinity Center dedicated to his memory during a Maryland basketball game Tuesday evening. His widow, Andrea Chamblee ’83, wearing his Maryland Athletics press pass, said she had just signed a contract to publish his third book, about D.C. high school basketball.

She called on McNamara’s friends — and all writers — to do a different kind of reporting. She meticulously articulated the names and stories of people recently killed by guns, and urged journalists to avoid becoming numb to the violence.

“As writers, that’s your tool, your skill and your horrible burden,” Chamblee said. “Make sure we all get used to not getting used to it."

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