You knew Jeff better than I did, way better, so please take this letter with that in mind. However, at the same time, I was very disappointed in your CNN column about Jeff's tragic death in February. You glossed over some very important factors here and I will discuss them in the next few paragraphs. I knew Jeff, too, not for 25 years like you did, and not in such a close way as you did -- the two you worked together in Chicago long ago when he was an advice columnist there and you were a regular columnist (before you were fired for a sex scandal involving an underage intern, as the news reports reported back then)
The CNN headline said "Jounalist and author Jeff Zaslow, who died in a car crash last month,
brought admirable integrity to his work, says Bob Greene."
That is true.
''Bob Greene says he heard from friend [via email], Jeff Zaslow, 2 weeks before his
death in a car crash.'' Bob, that is true, too.
''He says writer Zaslow's integrity, both personal and professional, was inspiring''.
Bob, that is true,
''He once drove hundreds of miles for a story that he easily could have
"phoned in"'' -- THAT IS NOT EXACTLY TRUE, BOB. I will explain.
''Greene: Over and over in his life, he took extra steps to get it right
-- a lesson for us all." -- Well, BOB, read on. And please understand that i write these words in a spirit of compassion and healing, that i am sure Jeff would understand. I hope you will, too. My guess is you will angry and react is very angry way. We shall see.
"Editor's note: Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a
bestselling author whose books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"
and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen." [WHAT THE EDITOR DID NOT SAY: BOB GREENE was fired from his columnist job at the Chicago newspaper where he worked for many years for a work-related sex scandal involving a legal-age young female intern. Correct me if I am wrong.]
Bob, what you I feel you got wrong in your very warm and heartfelt apprecation of Jeff was this: Jeff (and maybe you too) was an over-functiong American male, in my opinion, who was "driven" by some inner drive to over function all his life. You too? I don't know you, so i cannot say. But from the way you eulogized Jeffrey, it seems you are an over-functiong American male, too (or were, earlier in your life), no?
Bob, you wrote: "On February 10, on his way back to his home in suburban Detroit from a
book signing in Petoskey, Michigan, the night before, Jeff was killed
instantly when, according to police, his car skidded on a snowy road
and was hit head-on by an oncoming semitrailer truck. He was 53."
But Bob, as you know, that BOOK SIGING was way up north in upper Michigan for a wine and cheese book signing and talk at a local bookstore for 40 people. 40 people, Bob! Was that road trip really necessary? To meet and greet 4o peoople when with Jeff's media presence and PR power, he could have had a front page story in the New York Times that day and meeted and greeting millions of people, not 40! He could have been home with his wife and teeange daughter that day. Why the need to drive SOLO with all his wealth and media power and bestsellerdom just for meet and greet 40 book lovers and sign some books? Is a signature worth a life? Did Jeff have to be on the road that morning in winter snowstorm? No.
I believe he was on the road because all his life, Jeff, good man that he was, mensch among mensches that he was, suffered from what another person told me is called OVER-FUNCTIONING: doing too much when doing such much is not really necessary.
Jeff was an over-functioning male and one lesson we might get from his tragic death is that we need to tell men to try to stop over-functiong and cool it a bit, no? Maybe you, too, Bob? Me, I am the opposite, I am an under-functioning male. But i understand people, as you do too, Bob and as Jeff really did, too.
Bob, you wrote: "Jeff's wife, Sherry, his three daughters, Jordan, Alex and Eden, and
his parents, Harry and Naomi, have suffered an unfathomable loss. The
obituaries and tributes written by his friends and colleagues have all
centered on Jeff's never-ending thoughtfulness and compassion. The
tributes have been entirely accurate; the constancy of Jeff's kindness
was one of life's rarities."
Yes, Jeff was one of a kind, one of life's rarities, and as someone very close to him told me: "when they made Jeff, they broke the mold." So true. He was a very endearing and dear man.
But Bob, when you wrote that ''Today, when Jeff should have been arriving for our time together, I'd
like to pass on a lesson from him that I believe can be used to great
effect by anyone, regardless of his or her line of work," I must disagree with your lesson learned.
You wrote: "Some people thought that Jeff got lucky with that book.
But luck had nothing to do with it."
Bob, luck had all to do with that book. You don't know the real backstory. Jeff did not discover Randy Rausch. The PR office at Carngie Mellon called Jeff in Detroit and told him of the upcoming speech. Jeff wanted to go but his editors said there was no budget for a flight to Pennsylvania, so the trip was canned at first. Then Jeff said he would go even if he had to drive there himself. He did. Bravo. He wrote a great column and great followup column the next week. The media power of the WSJ made his story national news. Luck had everything to do with it. Reporters at two newspapers in Pennsylvania also wrote similar stories a day before Jeff's column appeared but the national media did not pick up on their stories ebcause they were not the WSJ. See? luck, media power, a PR call from the PR office.
''As he was reporting the piece, Jeff learned that a professor at
Carnegie Mellon -- Pausch -- was going to give what might literally be
his last lecture. Pausch was dying from pancreatic cancer.'' Jeff got a call from the PR office at Carnegie Mellon. Jeff was an alumn of Carnegie. Connect the dots, Bob. Luck is talking to you here. Listen.
''It was going to be inconvenient for Jeff to go from Detroit to
Pittsburgh for the speech'' -- no it wasn't, his editors did not want to pay the airfare is the true story.
''It would have been much easier just to call the
professor and get a quote, or have the university send him an audio or
video recording of the lecture. Remember: Jeff didn't even know, at
that point, whether Pausch's lecture would warrant a whole column.''
Bob, Jeff knew there was a great column here. Come on! But it was the seond column the following week that cemented the book deal. and good for Jeff. He was a great writer and a great book author for sure! But he was also an over-functiong man as you will realize when you finish reading this letter. If you get that far. I hope you will stay with me, Bob.
"It paid off spectacularly, of course. The column -- moving, tender,
insightful -- was a sensation, and the book that he ended up writing
with Pausch gave Jeff a new career in the top echelon of American
authors, and provided financial security for his family."
Well said. This is so true.
''But -- and this is what is important -- it was nothing he didn't do
all the time. In his work, he always went the extra step -- the extra
hundred steps. He never took the easy way.''
This is true, too, Bob, but there is a difference between hard work and good journalist leg work and over-functioning. Wait there's more. It's coming.
''I remember, seven or eight years ago, well before "The Last Lecture,"
Jeff had come to Chicago to interview an old-time vaudeville
performer. To the best of my recollection, the newspaper story was
going to have something to do with audiences, or audience reactions.
The old performer was going to be one sliver of a longer piece. An
easy phone-call interview.
But Jeff didn't do things that way. He flew to Chicago and, suitcase
in hand (he hadn't checked into his hotel yet), met me at the
restaurant where we had arranged to have dinner. At one point we
talked about why, at this stage in his career, he still pushed himself
so hard. He said he just wanted to look into the man's eyes when he
interviewed him the next day. He felt the story would be a little
better that way.
At the end of the meal we went to the coat-check window; they had
taken Jeff's suitcase down a long flight of stairs to store it on a
basement level. Jeff didn't want the young woman to have to carry it
up the stairs, so he went down to get it. I stood there and watched as
he came up the steep flight of stairs, visibly weary, huffing,
sweating, lugging the heavy bag; we looked at each other and both of
us burst out laughing.
"Look at you," I said. "You look like 'Death of a
"I know," he said. "Why do I do this?"
Bob, here is the key! Jeff admitted himself, WHY DO I DO THIS? He knew he was an over-functiong male but he could not stop. He was once asked at a dinner party what the secret was to his happy marriage with his wife, and he jokingly said "My travel schedule. I am always on the road."
Bob, that is the sign of an over-functiong too-driven male. See?
"He did it because it was the right way to do
a job." No Bob, he did because he was an overfunctiong male. And we need to sound the alarm, Bob, and wake people up, that many American men suffer from this syndrome. Ask their wives. Ask their kids.
Bob, I want to end this letter to you, which I am writing in the spirit of love and compassion, I also was a friend of Jeff's, and knew him slightly by email over the years, with a note I received from someone who knew Jeff, too, even better than you, sir, who saw my various blog posts on the Net about my feelings about Jeff's tragic death -- google and you can find them all, maybe 12 or so -- and in all of them i questioned why Jeff had to die in that senseless, meaningless tragic fatal way that day -- and this what that person told me:
I know you've gotten a lot of flack from people on the Itternet about your thoughts about Jeff.
I understand what you're saying, and I want you to know that
I can tell that your thoughts were collected
with all the respect and understanding you could muster.
Behind it seems to be your desire to try and help other special
people avoid tragedy.
Self preservation is key. It may not change anything,
but it's important to try and beat the odds, no matter
how dedicated one is to whatever the vocation, avocation or cause.
I am not sure if you knew him, but they truly broke the mold.
Thanks for taking the time to think and write so much about him.''
Bob, to conclude: Jeff was a good man, a great friend, a great everything, for sure. But did he really have to be on the road that day for a small book signing event for 40 people and then lose his life over that? Sure, accidents happen. But some accidents we egg on. Some accidents are the result of over-functioning, being too driven. Some accidents happen sure, fate, destiny, Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge at San Luis Rey" and all that, but what about
self-preservation? Did Jeff pay attention to that part of life as much as he should have. and is there a lesson HERE, in self preservation, that we need also take from Jeff's early passing?
It may not change anything,
but it's important to try and beat the odds, no matter
how dedicated one is to whatever the vocation, avocation or cause.
Maybe someone needs to stand up in America and say enough is enough with over-functiong males, and let's put an end to it, or least to hold it in check. THAT might be a good FINAL LESSON we can take from Jeff's tragedy, no?
Bob Greene's Dismissal from the Tribune, perhaps also due to an overfunctiong issue?
In September 2002 Bob Greene was forced to resign from his newspaper column after admitting to an extramarital sexual relationship 14 years earlier with a high school student. The student had visited Greene at work for a school project and became the subject of one of his columns. Admission of the affair attracted considerable attention, partly because Greene had made a name for himself as an advocate for abused children and family values, notably in his bestselling Good Morning, Merry Sunshine: A Father's Journal of His Child's First Year. Neil Steinberg said on CNN that Greene was "famous for using his position as a columnist... to try to get women into bed."
The woman with whom Greene had a relationship was 17, legal age in Illinois, and had graduated from high school in the months between their first meeting and his invitation to take her out to dinner. Their sole hotel tryst was euphemistically described in the Chicago Tribune as a "sexual encounter that stopped short of intercourse," and Greene told Esquire that he demurred at going further, telling her, "You should wait to do this with someone you love".
Four months after Greene's resignation from the Chicago Tribune, his wife Susan died of heart failure following a month-long respiratory illness.