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Saturday essay: Jerry

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Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

I first met Jerry Vondas nearly 30 years ago. He was the old pro at The Pittsburgh Press. I was the new kid at United Press International.

Fumbling with a Downtown map at the corner of Fifth Avenue and I Don't Know Where I Am, running late for an appointment with some muckety-muck, Jerry approached.

“You look lost,” he of short stature topped by one of his natty signature hats said with the broad smile of a best friend. “Where do you need to be?”

Quickly I was not on my way. For as anyone who knew Jerry knows, his help was comprehensive. Eventually, I was off in the right direction. But not before Jerry armed me with a wealth of information — from where to find the best breakfast (“Call me sometime, I'll introduce you to the owner; he's a nice boy”), to where the then-new subway stations were (“Oh, they're nice, ah, yeah”), to a sales pitch for the Greek Food Festival at Holy Trinity (“Very good, very good”).

And for the past 19 years, I had the privilege of working with Jerry at the Trib, first as his night editor when he was doing freelance work, then, when he came aboard full-time in 1998 and began a masterful run writing feature obituaries, some of the most important reporting a newspaper does.

Jerry was injured in an auto accident in March. He died of a related infection on Tuesday. He was 83. His desk in the southwest corner of the main Trib newsroom, left untouched for the last five months right down to his seat cushion, was adorned with a single rose and a simple “R.I.P. Jerry” note on his computer screen.

Yes, we lost a great journalist and a wonderful friend at the Trib this week. But Pittsburgh lost a treasure.

— Colin McNickle

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