Jeff Zaslow: A Man of Many Words, But Too Few Years

“Write, design and create a piece of work from your career field of interest which you can be proud of.”

This was an assignment given to me (and 25 other college students) by our English professor; a man well-known and respected for his unique style of teaching. Rather than following textbooks and shuffling spoon-fed students through a series of lectures, “Dr. Bill” challenged his students to think about their passion in writing/design and apply it to the “real world.”

I was up for the challenge, and frankly, drawn to this particular assignment because there were no boundaries or guidelines; just a world full of possibilities. Writing for the university newspaper at the time, I was keen to the profession of journalism. My first thought was to interview my dad who has been in sports writing for more than 30 years. Too easy.

When given the assignment, I also had just finished reading ” The Last Lecture, ” a best-selling book written by Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Zaslow. There was something about his writing I admired and wanted to learn more about. So, after some hesitation, I decided to try my luck at emailing the now popular author in hopes of receiving a response in enough time to turn in my assignment. A few days later, I received a response from Jeff inviting me to set up some time for us to chat.

In my car, parked in a university parking lot, I sat in the driver’s seat holding a yellow notepad in one hand, cell phone in the other. My hands shook with nerves as I dialed his phone number, but once he answered, his relatable personality made me feel as though I was talking to an old friend. I continued probing him with interview questions for the next half hour – some for the school project and others just out of curiosity. I took diligent notes, submitted a solid piece of work for class and followed up by sending him a copy.

In the years following college, I have had the good fortune and opportunity of engaging with Jeff over email. Like a true professional and polished mentor, he always responded and his words always left me feeling encouraged and inspired to keep writing.

During a phone call with a close friend, I was saddened to learn Jeff Zaslow was killed in a weather-related car accident in northern Michigan at the age of 53. His death comes after recently releasing a new book ” The Magic Room, ” a story inspired by his love for his three daughters and wife.

In a recent interview promoting his book, he said “…my job as a father is not to tell my daughters what dress to wear, not to tell them what to do. My job is to tell my girls I love them. And Sherry, that I love her, too, obviously…..when I hug my kids now, what a gift it is to be able to do that. And that’s sort of the story I’m telling in this book, which is we’ve got to hug our kids and make the most of each moment, because you never know.”

Thank you, Mr. Zaslow, for inspiring so many people through your unique style of writing and understanding of human interaction. May your humility live on and continue to inspire future generations for many years.

And, thank you for taking the time to share your story – as part of my college project and for the years following. Let me tell you, I am certainly proud.

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