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Remembering Jeffrey Zaslow

Published: February 13, 2012 | Last Updated: July 9, 2022 By | 23 Replies Continue Reading
Jeffrey Zaslow had such a talent for finding the right stories that it’s almost as if they found him.

Terrible news has a way of traveling almost instantaneously over very long distances. On Friday evening, I was vacationing in Mexico when I learned that Wall Street Journal columnist and best-selling author Jeffrey Zaslow was killed in a car crash on a snowy road in northern Michigan earlier that day.

If you are a reader of my blog, you may have read about Jeff and his books here before. I first “met” Jeff when I read The Girls from Ames and was profoundly impressed by his gift for telling stories with an engaging blend of passion, pathos and humor. I found it charming that any man could so exquisitely tell the nuanced stories of women with such sensitivity and understanding. I mentioned that when I interviewed him in May 2009 for an article in The Huffington Post. He responded: “With a wife, three daughters and no sons, I live in a world of women. So the topic resonates.”

“I think my being clueless about women and their friendships may have actually helped. I was able create a wider canvass,” he added. “A woman probably would have gotten different answers, for better or worse. I took a journalistic approach and I wasn’t judging their friendships compared to my own.”

Although Jeff had already achieved incredible journalistic and literary success, he was extremely humble. He considered himself a regular Joe—perhaps, that too, enabled him to bring voice and heart to ordinary as well as extraordinary people.

Before long, like many, I was a “Zazz” groupie. I read each of his books and columns in the Wall Street Journal, Moving On, which focused on life transitions. Probably feeling like I knew him better than I really did, I took the bold step of asking this man, whom I so admired, to provide a sentence or two for the cover of my book on friendship, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, that was published in September 2009. Any author will tell you that it is exceedingly awkward to ask someone to blurb your book, especially if you’re a relatively unknown, first-time author.

I thought my email would be deep-sixed in an in-box overflowing with letters from readers and other fans as The Girls from Ames soared on the bestseller list. But Jeff couldn’t have been more generous in not only responding positively, but in a more timely fashion than colleagues who were far less important—and whom I suspect had far more time.

Over the years, we had other email interactions and spoke on the phone. Most of the time, I leaned upon him for advice and I was always surprised that he took the time to respond. When I told him about my traumatic experience of showing up to give a talk about my book in a public library on a back-to-school night and no one attended but my husband and another author, he wrote back encouragingly:

You’re not a radio DJ until you’ve been fired
You’re not a pro athlete until you’ve been cut from the team
You’re not an author until you show up for a book signing and no one else does!!
I’m heading out to the Jewish Book Fairs next week. I expect good crowds…and maybe some very small ones, too! Who knows?

When Jeff came to give a talk in my corner of the world, I couldn’t wait to meet him. I was part of a crowd that assembled in a temple in nearby Armonk, New York, to hear him speak about his latest book, Highest Duty, written with Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who piloted his plane to safety over the Hudson River. Jeff had made the long trip as a favor because he knew someone on the temple board.

Listening to him speak threw the adage “never meet the author” on its heels. Jeff was warm, wise and engaging. He loved telling stories and as he stood upon the stage, I thought he might just as well have been a Rabbi in another life.

A friend we had in common introduced us afterwards and Jeff warmly embraced me like one would a cousin you hadn’t seen for a while. He chatted with me leisurely as throngs of people waited for him to sign books, and asked me about my son before he inscribed a copy of The Last Lecture to him in a very personal way, seemingly oblivious to the lateness of the hour.

Jeff had such a talent for finding the right stories that it’s almost as if they found him. He co-authored Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and Mark Kelly’s story, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, which was published in November 2011, and wrote to tell me that The Magic Room would be published soon after in January 2012. When I read the book that turned out to be his last, it read like a love story to his wife and daughters.

When I interviewed him about The Magic Room last month, he wrote about his love for his family, which spills over in the book:

I’m the father of three girls, and I wanted to write a nonfiction book about the love we all wish for our daughters. I needed a place to set the book — a place with great emotion — and I considered all sorts of possibilities. Maybe I could visit maternity wards, dance studios or daddy-daughter date nights. Maybe I’d hang out at spas where mothers and daughters go to bond. But then my wife suggested that I find a bridal shop. ‘There’s something about a wedding dress…’ she told me. She was right.

Jeff’s productivity was staggering, as was his stamina to show up at events in even the smallest of towns or tiniest of bookstores. Despite his busy life, he had an uncanny ability to not only form connections but to nurture them. One news report said that one of the clinchers, in him getting the Gabby Gifford’s book deal, was that of all the applicants he was the only one who started the dialogue by asking the Congresswoman how she was feeling. A simple act of kindness.

In too short a time on earth, Jeff has left an indelible legacy of love and humanity. His words and deeds will continue to inspire legions of readers and writers around the world and remind us to focus on the important relationships in our lives. Moreover, he was a role model in showing writers how important it is to pave the way for those looking up to you.

He was only 53 years old at the time of his sudden death and it appeared as if his trajectory as one of America’s greatest storytellers was unstoppable. When I recently asked how he could write one blockbuster book after another, he replied, “…I need to slow down and stop writing for a while!”

My heart goes out to his family, friends, and colleagues who have suffered such a profound and untimely loss.


  • Read my most recent interview with Jeff about The Magic Room, less than one month ago, on Life Goes Strong. 
  • Another interview with Jeff on The Huffington Post when I spoke to him about The Girls from Ames.

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Category: Books & movies about friendship

Comments (23)

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  1. Irene says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. What a legacy that one individual was able to touch so many lives so profoundly. You may want to look at the Wall Street Journal memorial page to Jeff. It has many of his writings and is updated daily. 

    http://online.wsj.com/public/page/remembering-jeffrey-zaslow.html?mod=quicklinks_offduty

    Warm regards, Irene 

     

  2. Anonymous says:

    I work at the George Bush airport here in Houston and found a People magazine left behind by a passenger. I got to the end where “PASSAGES” are listed. Then I saw him name. I was hoping it wasn’t the same Jeffrey Zaslow that took the time to send my Mom a copy of something I had written to him about her. It was back in the late 80’s when he was writing for the Sun Times in Chicago. I just read this about an hour ago and have been looking all over the internet for news about his life and accident. His death has really touched me. I even shed a few tears. Strange thing is I thought about him last week and it’s been YEARS since he’s crossed my mind. I had NO idea he helped coauthor such incredible books. God Speed Jeff and God Bless your loved ones. I feel a deep, deep sadness…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks to you and your lovely tribute to him, I now want to know more and certainly want to read his books. He looks like a kind man from the photo you have posted. I hope you’re doing okay.

  4. Anonymous says:

    To “Dear Irene” Anonymous: Thank you for saying this (“It is not a one way street.”) That is the absolute truth. I hope the many many people who come to this blog keep in mind that it’s because of Irene’s book, spirit, and blog that there is a place to come to in the first place. And let’s give back to Irene when we can.

  5. Irene says:

    You might want to look at the tribute page set up by his family:

    http://rememberingzazz.com/

    This man led a truly remarkable life—making friends with so many people along the way.

     

    Best, I 

     

     

  6. Irene says:

    I don’t hold myself out as a therapist here—I’m a facilitator and, hopefully, an educator once in a while. I probably learn a lot more than I teach, however. 🙂 

  7. Irene says:

    I appreciate it more than you can imagine. Irene 

  8. Irene says:

    I am so appreciative of your outpouring of love and support!

    xxx

    Irene 

  9. Anonymous says:

    You still manage to write this beautiful tribute to your friend, as well as other blog entries, while surely in a state of sadness and shock. I don’t know how you do it. You are an inspiration to me, Irene, in so many ways.

  10. Anonymous says:

    At least everyone else here stopped to think of Irene and gave her their condolences. Did you do that? No, you didn’t. So who is the cold one?

  11. Anonymous says:

    And yes I know, the professional line, the therapist, the patient– but, as I am not your patient and you are not my therapist, please simply accept these caring words in the spirit in which they are anonymously offered.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Condolences on the loss of your friend.

    May good memories of him and his work and life remain with you always. May your grief in losing him, in its own time, as you wish it so, fade and stop hurting.

    We are here for you, as you are here for us, if you need or wish. It is not a one way street.

    Take care of yourself.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yeh, maybe i am grieving too. SHEESH. you guys are cold as stone

  14. Anonymous says:

    Irene. What a lovely blog entry you have written in memory of a colleague and friend The fact that he was the only one who asked Gabby Gifford, how she was feeling must have been a quality and also very comforting to be able to trust him as a co-author. This was quite touching and it can be heartfelt that he had something very special. I’m going to look for his books. He obviously lived his life to the fullest.
    My sincere condolences, Irene.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Im sorry Irene. It sounds like there will be a huge hole in the world without him. My prayers go out for his family, friends and all those that loved him
    too. What a sad loss for the world.

  16. Anonymous says:

    This blog entry was so lovely. He must have been a wonderful man.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t think about the poster grieving too. I just thought geez Irene posted this heartfelt thing about the loss of her friend and here comes the nit picking post, all about how a nickname is or isn’t spelled and then speculating about the circumstances of his accident, and nary a word of consolation to Irene. Where are the legions of readers to this blog?? Hello! Irene’s friend is gone. Can’t you write and offer a kind word to her??? What is wrong with people today, anyway?

  18. Irene says:

    Perhaps the poster is grieving too—-it’s very hard to understand why very bad things happen to good people. This was a very tragic accident that happened while Jeff was doing what he loved to do. Thanks for rallying to my support and his. xxx Irene

  19. Anonymous says:

    And any quick Google search would show you that the man used to write a column called “All that Zazz”, and there is a web site started by his family called “Remembering Zazz”. Even if Irene got it wrong (which apparently she didn’t), it still isn’t cause for you to yell and dredge up these inappropriate questions.

  20. Anonymous says:

    She’s obviously hurting over the loss, so why correct her at this time over the spelling of the nickname, and play Perry Mason about the particulars?

  21. Anonymous says:

    She’s obviously hurting over the loss, so why correct her at this time over the spelling of the nickname, and play Perry Mason about the particulars?

  22. Anonymous says:

    QUESTION FROM A READER FAR AWAY: iRENE, has anyone considered why on
    Earth Jeff, a top selling bestselling author with huge media clout, he
    could do an interview with your paper and get a front page story about
    THE MAGIC ROOM, why on Earth was he driving solo in a snowstorm on a
    country road in the dead of winter returning home from a book signing
    the night beefore for 40 — merely 40! — people at a small bookstore
    on a Thursday night? Where were his PR people? What were they
    thinking? This freak accident cannot be explained in human terms, but
    did it HAVE TO TAKE PLACE? Was it
    preventable? Is there anything others can learn from this ahout
    priorities and taking risks and TRAVEL? Maybe we should all stay home
    more? Just asking.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend, Irene. This was a wonderful tribute and has made me want to read his books. “The Girls from Ames” has always been on my “books to read” list. Take care, Irene.

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