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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Journalism loses a gem with passing of Jay Gallagher

A top-notch reporter on the New York state scene for years, Jay Gallagher was a first-class journalist and a truly decent human being. He'd been battling pancreatic cancer for a while, documenting his experience on a blog. It was with sadness that I learned of his death, and as a tribute of sorts I'd like to share with you his obituary, below, which was provided by the New York News Publishers Association.

It was my privilege to know and work with Jay while he was with Gannett News Service. The Saratogian was a Gannett newspaper prior to becoming part of the Journal Register Company. As a member of the Gannett group, The Saratogian published legislative news originating from the Gannett News Service's Albany bureau, so Jay's byline was frequently in The Saratogian. His work was insightful and analytical, the benefit of years of experience, a sharp mind and a dedication to the craft. And he was a really nice guy to boot. My condolences to his family.

Obituary for Jay Gallagher (1947-2010)
Jay Gallagher, award-winning journalist and passionate observer of New York state government for more than a quarter century, died Monday from pancreatic cancer. He was 63. Jay's dogged determination to bring depth to his reporting led to "The Politics of Decline," his 2005 book which linked political machinations to economic decay across the state.

Gallagher was born on April 30, 1947. More than most, Jay had ink in his blood. His father and uncle worked as reporters and editors at newspapers in Salem and Lynn, Massachusetts; Jay was was born in Beverly and raised in nearby Danvers. As a boy he became a rabid follower of all Boston sports teams, especially the Red Sox. In his online memoirs, he wrote of his first visit to a ballgame in 1953: "If I ever get to heaven, my arrival could be no sweeter than that moment I saw Fenway Park.''

While earning a bachelor's degree at Colby College (Maine), he met the woman who would give him a happy life, Emily Kreinick, of Brockton, Mass. After their graduation and marriage in 1969, Jay took his first reporting job at the Waltham (Mass.) News Tribune, then moved on to the Providence (R.I.) Journal. He worked there until a fateful work strike and a day on the picket line. After refusing to pipe down when a police officer ordered, Jay was arrested and quickly determined he'd move on from Rhode Island. He next spent eight years at the Rochester (NY) Times-Union, then joined Gannett News Service's New York Capitol Bureau in 1984. Named bureau chief in 1989, Jay coordinated state coverage for Gannett's eight statewide newspapers for the next two decades.

He covered the administrations of governors Mario M. Cuomo, George E. Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. He wrote the weekly New York Angle column, a staple in many Empire State newspapers. He also shepherded the careers of many journalists and student interns who worked at the Gannett bureau. He was a regular panelist on "New York Week in Review,'' a statewide public-television show, and has appeared on the CNN show "Inside Politics'" and "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer'" on PBS. In the last year, he became a co-host on "The Capitol Pressroom," a statewide public radio program.

Among the numerous awards Jay received for his coverage of state government were the 1998 and 2004 New York Newspaper Publisher's Association Award for excellence, the 1997 and 2004 Legislative Correspondents' Association award for outstanding reporter, and the 2002 beat reporting award from Capitol Beat, the national association of state capitol reporters, and the 1993 New York Common Cause award for best commentary on New York state government. He was a favorite among fellow reporters and a staple at the LCA's annual theatre shows.

During this time, Jay and Emily raised daughters Janice and Ellen. Jay passed on his love of politics to both daughters: Ellen works to promote the integration of immigrants into communities across the country, and Janice is a PhD student in Political Science, focusing on human rights and international law. His friends knew countless hours of rooting for his beloved Boston teams from the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics to the New England Patriots.

In 2003, Jay stepped back from daily reporting to tackle the question of how New York's intractable political problems contributed to its economic decline. Growing out of a series of in-depth news articles, Gallagher's book, "The Politics of Decline," (Whitston, 2005) detailed government's major failures: the failure to address the loss of manufacturing jobs, to stop runaway Medicaid costs and to find a balance in funding for public education system. He laid the blame not only on special interests and the lack of political leadership, but also an apathetic public.

Jay always took care to balance work with his personal life. He was a big sports fan, and also liked hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing with his family. He was a passionate and competitive tennis player, until a bad hip forced him to switch to golf. In high school, he played on the hockey and football teams; in college, hockey and track. And he always attended all the girls' athletic events, even doing a stint as co-head coach of a girls' soccer team with daughter Janice.

Jay's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in June 2009 came as a shock. But he immediately began to chronicle his fight in a blog carried by several New York newspapers. With wit and grace, he took his readers through the ups and downs of chemotherapy, conflicting medical opinions and wrenching family decisions.

Jay was predeceased by his parents, Joseph and Hazel Bromley Gallagher and his sister Anne Bromley Pramas of Dracut, Mass. He is survived by his wife of almost 41 years, Emily Gallagher, his daughters, Janice Gallagher of Ithaca, N.Y., and Ellen Gallagher (and her spouse, Allyson Goose) of Somerville, Mass. and his brother, Neil Gallagher, of Berwick, Me.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to Friends of Five Rivers, 56 Game Farm Road, Delmar, NY 12054 or the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany Endowment Trust, 405 Washington Ave, Albany, NY 12206.

The memorial service will be held on Tuesday, June 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State St in Albany. Doors will open at 7pm and the service will start at 7:30. For further updates please check Jay's blog at


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