We will miss you, Peggy

Peggy Girshman

Peggy Girshman

It is with sadness that we share the loss of a very special woman, talented journalist, and active NASW board member, Peggy Girshman. She died suddenly yesterday on March 14, 2016. Peggy had been attacking a diagnosis of amyloidosis for the last several years and, according to her husband Mitch Berger, “Peg went out like a true journalist, at her desk, writing (while also playing Scrabble online with her arch-nemesis, my brother Dan). Let the record show that she was winning.”

Peggy was the founding editor at Kaiser Health News, former executive editor of Congressional Quarterly, and had a number of roles at NPR, including deputy senior science editor and deputy national editor. Her award-winning work included a national Emmy, two Peabody awards, and an AAAS Science Journalism award. She had been a member of the NASW board for 10 years, first elected in 2006. Peggy could always be counted on to contribute to discussions with a mixture of passion, sincerity, and self-deprecating humor that built consensus, even if the opinion was a contrarian one.

If you received any kind of grant from NASW over the last ten years, chances are Peggy was on the committee. An active member of the Grants committee and the Career Grant program since their founding and always the first board member to raise her hand to help select travel fellows, Peggy advocated fiercely for members and journalists to have access to needed resources. She was also the founding treasurer of NASW’s finance committee and led the workshops committee as NASW’s vice president in 2011 and 2012. She continued to contribute to the workshops committee as a member thereafter. Her sharp eye, intelligence, and wit will be dearly missed, as will her compassion for each of us. We have lost a friend and science writing has lost with us.

There will be no funeral, and a memorial service will be planned by the family later in the spring. For those who wish to honor her, Peggy was adamant about no flowers (no matter how much she liked the spring kind) and requested donations to Planned Parenthood instead. We invite members to share their tributes to Peggy on our website in the comments section of this article. Be sure you are logged in to allow for posting.

It was a privilege to serve with Peggy for years on NASW's Program Committee, which considers proposals from members for projects to make use of Authors' Coalition funds. Peggy was our committee's most forthright member. We could count on her to analyze each proposal in frank and fair terms. She always had the greater good of the society in mind -- always with an eye toward how projects could help the greatest proportion of members, especially those just starting out and those who might face institutional barriers along the way. Each of our long conference calls included moments when Peggy simply showed the rest of us how to get to the point, and quickly. We had many disagreements, but it was such a respectful group. I'll miss her sharply rendered perspectives a great deal. Peggy, thank you.

Peggy was a superb journalist but more than that, a good human being. 
At a time when the ideas and ideals that Peggy held dear are under such vile attack, there is no better way to honor her than to support Planned Parenthood as she requested. I hope my fellow members will join me.

As a writer, broadcaster, communicator, NASW member, and most of all, friend, Peggy Girshman was the role model for them all. It;s hard to imagine NASW without her in it. Peggy was among the first to urge me too join NASW in 2009 and I am indebted to her for  doing so. She also encouraged me to serve on the Workshop Committee, the group that sets the agenda for the NASW annual meeting, and take advantage of other opportunities to contribute to our organization. Ironically, this year's Workshop Committee is just about to start its work and I know that throughout the process, we'll be thinking of Peggy and missing her keen wit, sound judgement and sage counsel. Rest in peace, Peggy ... we are all richer to have known you.

 

No hyperbole here, this is a serious loss to us all. Professionally of course but also personally. Peggy was, among other good things, a mensch. Love, Tammy
 

I had the good fortune of being a high school classmate of Peggy's in Detroit, and of being one of her many friends ever since, as our careers periodically intersected. 

Beyond her talents and skills as a journalist (as other comments have described), Peggy was a women of extraordinary gracioiusness, courage and good humor, with the rare ability to make every person who knew her feel like a treasured friend.

 

I met Peggy 30 years ago, when she was at WNET's New Jersey studio, which produced a TV newsmagazine called "Innovation." I always enjoyed talking with her over the years, precisely because her career had given her so many different kinds of experiences and her editor's perspective got beyond the individual stories. My sympathies to her family.

We have lost her dazzling smile; her generous heart; her quick, judicious, discerning mind; her observant wit; her courageous spirit.  She showed us how to be a journalist, how to face adversity, how to be a human being.

Peggy was my editor and my friend. Her grace and generosity simply overflowed. More than 30 years ago, when I barely knew her, she lent me her car while I was in Boston so I could get out of town and explore a bit. (So, OK, it was not the squeakycleanmobile -- that was actually part of the charm). When she worked on the science desk at NPR, I came to know her as a smart and penetrating editor. We worked as a team and never lost track of our task at hand, which could be funny, serious, sobering, enlightening or on the best of days all of the above. She loved to teach statistics to hapless colleagues, and one of her favorite tools was M&Ms. She had learned the normal ratio of colors in the bags and could easily make the point that a small sample provides a less reliable estimate than a large sample. One day I slit open an M&M bag with a razor blade and filled it with nothing but green M&Ms. A careful bit of tape covered up the hole. It took about a quarter of the bag to her to figure out that she was the victim of a bit of trickery. I won't forget the look on her face when she came back to my desk, knowing that something more than statistics was at play. When she left NPR a few years later, she gave me two pounds of M&Ms at her  going-away party. I saved a few of them for many years, figuring she would someday be back and I could offer her the last handful. I'm so sorry that she won't return to amuse, embrace or enlighten any of us. Such a loss.

 

I hadn't known about Peggy's penchant for M&Ms before reading Richard's touching message, but I should have guessed there was something special about them.  When I went off the board after quite a number of years, Peggy and Robin arranged a special present: pounds of personalized M&Ms imprinted with my picture and little sayings like "Beryl rocks" and "Beryl is the greatest."  So sweet, both literally and figuratively, and so typical of Peggy--funny, kind and touching, all at once.  I still have some of those M&Ms, and now I will cherish them as a symbol of the sweetness we have lost.
 

I knew Peggy somewhat when I moved from Boston to DC in 2001. Though we were not well acquainted, she had a gift of making you feel she was your best friend from the instant you met her.

Without her involvement, I took a job on the NPR science desk very early in 2002 and got to know her better. A few months later, something remarkable happened.

Rob Stein, then the science editor on the national desk at The Washington Post, decided he wanted to go back to writing, and he was charged with helping to find his replacement. Along the way he called Peggy to ask if she had any suggestions. She told me she wanted to give him my name but that I was not to tell anyone at NPR about it, lest she be seen as disloyal. (Having been the Health/Science editor at the Boston Globe for many years, I had relevant experience. In fact, I had much more relevant experience for a newspaper job than for radio, for which I had none until I walked in the door at NPR.)

Anyway, the upshot was the Post interviewed and hired me, which brought my radio career to a close after just 11 months but led to a great 6 1/2 year run at the Post.

So Peggy, thank you once again, and rest in peace.

Peggy liked to choose her words carfully, and so shall I.

Class. Brains. Talent. Compassion. Commitment. A true journalist.

Oh, and a wicked sense of humor.

I cannot remember the medical conference or even the date that I first met Peggy. I do know that she was an inspiration and a help to me and countless others.

Peggy will be sorely missed. Deepest sympathies to Mitch Berger.

Rita Baron-Faust

I knew Peggy only by reputation, but greatly admired what she has done throughout her career and at NASW. This is a big loss for the science writing community. My deepest condolensces to her family, friends and colleagues.

I knew Peggy from waaaay back, when she was a TV news producer at DC's Channel 9 and I was starting out across town as the medical producer for the CBS Evening News. It was the height of AIDS and we traded tapes back and forth many days so we that between us we could cover every single Koop/Fauci/Heckler presser or protest march. I had never met someone so chipper and generous in the news business (still haven't). Even after she got sick, she never wanted to talk much about what she was going through. She always wanted to know what and how YOU were doing. Her blog-style reports from the Mayo Clinic's "Arab shiek wing" kept us all in stitches and reminded me to try to have fun - even with injury and illness. Peggy knew - and would tell anyone who asked - that there was no cure for this and that the end would come. She persevered longer than many, and did it with class, laughter and great humanity. Cheers Peggy!!