On Sept. 15, NJJN Staff Writer Robert Wiener died after a prolonged illness. He was 78. Several of his current and former colleagues shared their recollections of Bob (additional memories can be found at NJJewishnews.com):
Ron Kaplan, former NJJN features editor:
Bob Wiener was the first one from the Jewish News staff to greet me, just after I was hired in 2004. The welcome came in the form of a message to my home e-mail, inviting me to lunch. He couldn’t have known what that meant to someone entering a brand-new profession after 20-plus years in non-profit, totally unsure of how I would fit in. As a media veteran, he could have been stand-offish, looking down on this interloper, but that just wasn’t Bob. He was your rumpled uncle. Didn’t care much about appearances and loved to tell stories.
Shortly after I came on board, I brought my daughter, Rachel, to work. She must have been about 11 at the time. When he learned during their chat that she loved photography, he asked her to take a picture for him for an article he was working on, something he normally would have done himself. It was just a simple exterior shot of the Whippany JCC, but it made Rachel — now a professional photographer — feel grown-up and, again, welcome, a word that circles back to Bob.
Shira Vickar-Fox, NJJN managing editor:
Bob liked to be on the go. When he came into the office wearing a blazer over his usual uniform of a button-down shirt, trousers, and suspenders (minus his usual Teva sandals) I knew it was because he was covering an event or meeting such as an NCJW speaker, a New Jersey-Israel commission meeting, or Jewish Historical Society gala.
He loved being out and about — traveling was one of his pastimes — and I like to think that had to do with his being a people person at heart, even if his gruffness sometimes repelled rather than attracted others. He routinely invited me to lunch at the Brookside Diner and although I never went, I sometimes joined him in the break room where he loved to tell stories of errant rabbis or on-the-road snafus from his days as a TV producer. He liked to goad and prod, especially when it came to the subject of Jewish observances, of which he claimed to have none. Out of seeming left-field, he would ask me, “Would you attend a prayer service if you would be counted in a minyan?” Or “Do you believe in an afterlife?” I never hesitated to answer him honestly, although I often felt too strapped for time to give him the thorough answer he deserved. I will always remember Bob’s joie de vivre.
Lauri Sirois Geers, NJJN classified sales supervisor:
One of my fondest memories of Bob involved one of these “restful moments” at his desk. After quite some time, he startled himself awake and flew into a panic. I’d never seen him run to my desk before — or look so upset. It was press day, he was finishing a story, and then it was just GONE!
Bob kept saying, “You’ve got to find it — my editor’s going to kill me and I don’t have time to write it over.” I was looking at the screen — white as snow … not a thing on it as I scrolled up and down. I rechecked settings, fonts, margins, views, you name it. Nothing. Deadlines loomed …Then I glanced at the bottom left corner to check the word count and page count. 690 words. Page 341 of 342.
Bob had fallen asleep with his thumb on the spacebar. Story was still at the top — we just had to delete the extra 341 pages…
Gonna miss those times.
Johanna Ginsberg, NJJN staff writer:
Bob started at the paper just a few months before me in 2002, during the tenure of editor David Twersky. He’s been a fixture all this time, musing over the politics of the moment, eating his chicken salad for lunch, getting into regular fender benders, wearing his rumpled shirts, suspenders, jeans, and sandals.
When I arrived, Bob was on a press junket to Israel where, he often recalled, he had the opportunity to observe Governor James McGreevey and his staffer and then-secret lover Golan Cipel make eye contact. Bob would often describe the sizzling chemistry between the two even then. It was a classic Bob story, involving being in the right place at the right time and realizing it. Shortly after the trip, Cipel resigned and ultimately, in 2004, so did McGreevey.
He professed little interest in the Jewish community and disdain for most authority figures. In his own way, he was always trying to speak truth to power. But he always had some funny Jewish tidbit to offer, whether about growing up Jewish in Maplewood at a time when anti-Semitism there was rampant, attending an interfaith Passover seder somewhere, or dredging up a long-ago story with some relevant kernel.
He was a fixture in the office, part of our family, and I will miss him, his white hair, his car issues, and his stories.
Linda Forgosh, executive director, Jewish Historical Society of NJ:
Bob Wiener was more than just the reporter that covered the Jewish Historical Society’s activities, programs, and traveling exhibits. He was my friend and even my date when he covered Rabbi [Shalom] Lubin’s Jewish law symposium, sat with me at the Society’s annual Lasting Impressions gala, and convinced me to go to New York to hear him sing — he loved to sing — songs from the Great American Songbook at a cabaret located in midtown Manhattan. We often spoke about current events and when that happened I knew that I had better have brought my “A” game as Bob knew his history. It was my privilege to know him. I will miss him.
Lori Silberman Brauner, NJJN deputy managing editor:
Having had a professional life outside the Jewish media, Bob regaled me with his stories of grand adventures, both in the United States and abroad. Bob always encouraged those with whom he worked, including NJJN interns, to develop their skills and portfolio as journalists. He was pleased to learn of my own career successes over the years and encouraged me to pursue my highest aspirations. And not only did he continuously praise my editing skills, he never took offense when I pointed out any mistakes in his articles.
On a lighter note, Bob knew how important it was that I had my afternoon coffee in order to function (i.e., stay awake!). After going out for lunch, he would regularly call me from his cell phone en route to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts, uttering the same three words: “hot or cold?” He never expected to be reimbursed, telling me I’d take him out for lunch sometime. To my regret I returned the favor only once, running up quite a tab!