A great shakeup in the force happened last week when former Kane County Chronicle columnist and reporter Judy Reinert died.
Judy’s death also was a tsunami in my own personal force because we were coworkers for 10 years and friends for 20 years. We worked together until she left in 2001 to care for her ailing mother.
We talked almost daily until the past two weeks when she became very ill.
She covered the arts community in the Tri-Cities and was the main writer for the features section, which included a health edition every month.
Chronicle readers may remember her weekly column, Talk of the Towns, covering the arts, music, personal, poignant and funny stuff. I even made her column once. When my mouth swelled up after I ate a mango, she noted that I looked like I’d been “biffed in the kisser.”
Now that’s a Judy phrase through and through.
Judy, who died at age 72, was singularly the most gifted and versatile writer I ever worked with. She was amazing. Hard news, soft news, a column, the arts, reviews, music, crime, science, tragedy and comedy – she did it all. She could write anything about anything and make it not just good, but a joy to read. Whether it was light or serious, historical or topical, Judy not only nailed it, she tied a ribbon to it. Or a feather. Or a flower.
A copy editor once said of her, “She could write 60 inches about a brick.”
Funny is the hardest thing to write, yet she did it all the time with her column and frequently with her features.
Once she covered a Tony Robbins seminar. Her description of the self-help guru in action had people laughing for days.
“Unleash the Power” had nothing on the unleashed Judy.
In 1995, Judy met Bob Alm, known as Breezy Bob. He built a Breezy – an open aircraft – and named it The Anabelle in honor of his mother, who died from cancer, and flew it across country. Wherever he landed, he raised awareness and money for cancer research.
Fearless Judy went up in the Breezy with Bob and wrote about it – and then collected Breezy Bob updates for months.
As popular as the story was, Judy was in trouble for going up in the plane without editors’ permission first. She shrugged off the criticism with a sly wink. Her motto – better to ask forgiveness than permission.
Judy also was a great humanitarian in her writing and personally. A bona fide “do-gooder,” she always encouraged support of local charities.
Once she wrote about undocumented workers living in deplorable conditions in an unheated semi-trailer. In her column, she asked for donations of bedding and household utensils for them.
The next morning, her work area looked like the morning-after sale at Field’s.
Such was the power of a Judy column.
As the pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in St. Charles said at Judy’s memorial Mass, hers was a wonderful life and also a tragic one.
Judy’s tragedy was her lifelong struggle with alcoholism, the disease that ultimately killed her.
Before her death, Judy and her daughter agreed to be open about the alcoholism, which was “the defining battle of my mother’s life,” her daughter wrote in an email.
Telling the truth about her illness in no way subtracts from her incredible gifts.
But rather, to tell it is to inspire others facing similar demons to seek help; to support those already “in the program” in their sobriety; and to encourage awareness about the disease.
Be at peace, my dear friend. Be at peace.
• Brenda Schory is a reporter for the Kane County Chronicle. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.