The lasting image of Gerald Fischman for Larry Harris is a shy but studious ninth-grader who wore cardigan sweaters and carried a brown briefcase during his years at Northwood High School in the 1970s.
“Gerald was the one who got straight A’s,” recalled Harris, of Germantown.
Fischman, 61, was one of four journalists and a sales assistant at the Capital Gazette who were shot and killed by a gunman on June 28 in their Annapolis newsroom. Jarrod Ramos of Laurel was charged in the killings.
For 26 years, Fischman was the voice of the Annapolis daily, “writing scathing, insightful and always exacting editorials about the community,” The Baltimore Sun wrote. He didn’t grouse about “having to write an editorial about Christmas every year, even though he was Jewish.”
Also killed in the shooting were Rob Hiaasen, 59, an editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent; sports writer John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Fischman grew up in Silver Spring, on Caddington Avenue near Forest Knolls Elementary School, which he attended. He graduated from Northwood in 1974 and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland in 1979.
Harris said he was shocked when he got word of the shooting last week. He said he hadn’t seen Fischman since high school, but remembered him fondly. Fischman was an editor at Northwood’s school newspaper, and quickly made a name for himself with his writing ability, Harris said. While quiet, he was never shy when it came to voicing his opinion about current events, particularly during the Watergate.
“His passion was the world around him and the political environment,” Harris said.
Fischman also played violin in the school orchestra, and was “very precise,” about his playing, Harris said.
Harris said he tried to befriend Fischman, whose reserved personality sometimes isolated him socially. Fischman was bullied, Harris said.
“I always tried to reach out to him because I knew what a struggle it was to get picked on in school,” Harris said. “He was one of the good guys. He never complained. He never went to any of the teachers or the principal. He just kept to himself. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t reach out the last several years.”
Another classmate, Larry Shor, attended elementary school with Fischman. Shor, who hosts a weekly radio show of Jewish music, called Fischman “a very smart guy” who often kept to himself.
“[He was] a really really nice, sweet guy,” Shor said. “Never would hurt a fly.”
Former Capital Gazette reporter Joshua Stewart described Fischman as “kind of a mysterious guy” who became famous for the sticky notes he left on the desks of his colleagues asking them to fact check his editorials.
According to the Sun, Fischman married Saran Erdenebat, an opera singer from Mongolia, later in life. When Stewart and another reporter asked how they had met, Fischman’s reply was succinct.
“I typed ‘Mongolian opera singer’ into a dating site,” he deadpanned, according to The Sun.
A week before Fischman’s death, he and other members of the Capital Gazette’s editorial board interviewed candidates for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to determine the paper’s endorsements in the race. Dana Schallheim, one of two winning candidates, said Fischman only asked a few questions but seemed genuinely interested in the candidates’ responses.
“He just sat there and looked at us and took very diligent notes,” she said. “He seemed like he cared deeply about what we were saying.”
Schallheim said she was devastated at the news about the shooting, and called the five who were killed “institutions.”
“You can’t replace experience like that,” she said. “You can’t replace their experience in reporting truth.”
Fischman’s legacy, Harris said, will be of a person “who knew so much about the world” and let others know through his carefully worded writing.
“He used his wordsmith prowess to express what he saw in the world.”