Saturday, October 13, 2007

Memories, Yes I Have a Few

It was just three weeks ago that I learned my colleague and friend, Walt Crowley, had died at age 60. Now the second shoe drops: Nick Gallo, with whom I also once worked at The Weekly (subsequently retitled Seattle Weekly), has suddenly passed away. That news came to me via a short e-mail note from Paul Frichtl, the editor of Alaska Airlines Magazine, a monthly to which both Nick and I have sold articles over the years:
If you’ve not heard, we’ve lost a good writer and friend. Nick Gallo died Wednesday in Athens of a heart inflammation. In our small community of magazine journalists, Nick has always stood out as one of the most talented, enthusiastic and passionate writers and editors. And he’s been a caring friend to everyone he’s worked with.

Nick will be sorely missed.
I’d understood from our mutual friend, Charlie Smyth, that Nick had flown off to Greece on a travel-writing assignment, one he’d been looking forward to taking. He was scheduled to return home to Seattle this month. Any journalist who’s toured around the United States or the world on behalf of a publication--especially since September 11, 2001--wonders at some point, What would happen if I got mortally sick on the road, and couldn’t get back? But that’s supposed to be idle speculation, nothing to be taken too seriously, just the backtalk of human fear.

You’re not supposed to die for the sake of a travel-writing gig.

After I heard about Nick’s demise, I tried to tally up what I really knew about him. We’d never been close friends, not like Charlie and me; but since our Weekly days together, we had seen each other periodically, mostly at magazine editorial events, restaurant openings (to which freelance writers often wangle invitations), and author readings about town. Oh, and sometimes at Seattle’s Green Lake, around which he liked to walk his dog.

If my memory is correct, Nick was 57 years old. He was born of Italian stock and grew up in Connecticut. He went to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, but in the 1970s came west to attend journalism school at the University of Oregon. He was a big baseball fan who’d played sports in his younger, more limber days. He’d been married for many years to a woman named Laurie, and they had two sons together, Alex and Noah, at least one of whom is now going to college himself. Nick left The Weekly well before I did, and wound up freelancing for a variety of parenting, health, and airline magazines. He was also a stringer for People magazine. I remember that last job of his well, because during the early 1990s, while he was off attending to some other business (I don’t now remember what), he asked me to pinch-hit for him at People. This was an unlikely substitution, to be sure; I didn’t read People, and wasn’t really interested in covering the brand of celebrity or pathos-heavy stories I associated with that weekly publication. (What can I say? I was a snob.) Fortunately, his editor seemed to understand my biases, and sent me out to interview authors Mark Helprin and Charles Johnson, both then living in Seattle, and a little-known Canadian comic-book writer by the name of Todd McFarlane, who lived in southwestern British Columbia. (It wasn’t long after I talked with McFarlane that he became famous as the artist behind the Spider-Man series, and then went on to create the antihero Spawn and become an entertainment mogul.) I subsequently tried to return Nick’s favor by asking him to write a chapter or two of the original, 1993 edition of the Seattle Access guidebook, which I edited.

What else do I remember about Nick? That he was fond of tequila. If I didn’t know this before, I found it out one night during a small birthday party, many years ago. Herding Charlie Smyth and me into the kitchen of the home where this fĂȘte was taking place, away from a crowd in the living room, Nick drew out a handsome bottle of the stuff that he’d recently brought back from Mexico, and proceeded to pour us shots. In those days, I could usually hold my own in drinking contests, but Nick had a capacity far exceeding mine. He’d probably perfected it during his many trips south of the border. Nick relished every opportunity to travel through Mexico, whether for business or pleasure, and he often wrote about his journeys (see here, here, here, here, and here). Every once in a while, I’d suggest to Nick that he pen his own book about that Latin American nation, but he seemed reticent--reluctant to commit himself to the task of writing a book, and somewhat unsure that he could pull it off, anyway.

There will be others who knew Nick Gallo better than I, people who can share their adventures together and recall jokes he told or embarrassing incidents in which he was involved. I’ll look forward to hearing what they have to say. My strongest memories of Nick aren’t event-oriented at all. I remember him as a kind and generous individual, a writer passionate about getting his best work into print (despite the roadblocks of humorless or otherwise thickheaded editors), and a friend who never seemed too busy to sit and talk about politics, journalism, or the quotidian frustrations of life. There aren’t enough Nicks in this world. It’s beyond sad to have lost the original.

UPDATE: Cathy Brown, Nick’s sister-in-law, has assembled an excellent portfolio of photographs celebrating his well-traveled life. You can find that here.


Cathy said...

Thanks for your wonderful words about Nick Gallo. It is, indeed, “beyond sad.”
I would like to add your ‘memories’ to a website we have of photos. Please let me know how you feel about that. []
Thanks. And best regards,
Cathy Brown (Nick’s sister-in-law)

Candace Dempsey said...

Jeff, thank you so much for writing this. I just found out about Nick and am just so sad. You brought him back to me! Candace
P.S. I'm going to write about him too on my blog.

Jad Davenport said...

I met Nick only once, on a recent trip to Spain where he was having fun working hard at photography. I didn't know him well at all, but he was super friendly and full of great humor and energy; he spoke affectionately of his wife and sons and shared some photos. My thoughts are with them all.

Paul Temple said...

Nick worked for or contributed to publications I edited and elevated them with his beautifully crafted stories. His talent was unbounded yet his humility and his humanity were well grounded. His passion, empathy and good humor were inspiring and made Nick's friendship a gift to all who knew him and one I'll always treasure.

Thanks for your comments Jeff.

John Mitchell said...

I was shocked and saddened to hear about Nick's untimely death. We traveled together on several press trips to Mexico and Central America and became good friends. Nick was a gifted and dedicated writer. I'll greatly miss his intelligence, warmth, and fine sense of humour.