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Andrew Schneider, great journalist and great guy, passes

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Andrew Schneider

Editor’s note: Andy’s honey investigation for Food Safety News continues to draw readers to this day, and has prompted more comments than any story in our history. After he left, he’d call us a half dozen times a year with suggestions or praise. We are going to miss him, that’s for sure. Check out his honey story here.

We had the honor that Andy worked for Food Safety News in 2011.

Andrew Schneider, an acclaimed investigative reporter and public-health journalist, died Friday. He was 74.

Schneider, who lived in Missoula, died of heart failure in Salt Lake City, where he was being treated for pulmonary disease.

Schneider, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor, was remembered by many of his colleagues Saturday as a relentless, inspiring reporter who built indelible relationships with people from all walks of life — colleagues, news sources, and the ordinary people on whose behalf he worked.

Schneider won two Pulitzer Prizes while working at the Pittsburgh Press — one for specialized reporting in 1986 and another for public service in 1987.

The public service Pulitzer was for “Danger in the Cockpit,” co-written with Matthew Brelis and photographed by Vincent Musi, a story revealing dangerous gaps in airline safety, including the fact that pilots with alcohol and drug issues were not prevented from flying. The 1986 winner in the public service category, written with reporter Mary Pat Flaherty, detailed violations and failures in the organ transplantation system in U.S. medicine.

Schneider’s wife, the journalist Kathy Best, is editor of The Missoulian in Missoula and a former editor of The Seattle Times. The couple moved to Missoula last year when Best took the job at The Missoulian. Since his arrival in Montana, Schneider had been working part-time as a public health reporter for Lee Montana Newspapers.

Flaherty, now with the Washington Post, said Saturday, “The man never had anything but a big, big plan when it came to a story he was chasing and if you were part of the hunt he raised your game, too.”

Later, working for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he broke the story of the asbestos contamination of Libby, which ended up making global headlines and resulted in an EPA Superfund cleanup that continues today, nearly two decades later. More than 400 people have died and a thousand more are sick in the tiny town of Libby due to asbestos-related disease. He co-wrote the book “An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana Uncovered a National Scandal,” published by Putnam in 2004, and then wrote an updated version, “An Air that Still Kills,” which was honored last year as iBook of the Year by iBA.

The community of scientists and public-health advocates who have worked on asbestos issues for years remembered Schneider Saturday.

“In the 45 years I’ve worked on asbestos and other public-health issues, I’ve worked with a lot of journalists,” said public health scientist Barry Castleman. “Andy Schneider was by far the best.”

“For decades, he passionately fought for truth and justice for asbestos victims of the past, present and future,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

Keven McDermott of Seattle, retired manager of field investigations for EPA’s Region 10, worked with Schneider on several stories. She said Schneider “was our hero, our friend, our inspiration. He encouraged us to be brave and do good work. He told the stories that needed to be told and saved lives in the process. He will be forever missed.”

The photographer Musi marveled at Schneider’s “insatiable curiosity” and his refusal to quit on a story — a sentiment echoed by several colleagues.

His skill at befriending news sources led him to achieve a kind of access to information journalists almost never get today. Staff at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh became so used to seeing him that they gave him a lab coat and a “Dr. Schneider” name tag to wear.

Musi remembered Schneider talking his way behind secured areas at Miami International Airport. “People wanted to tell him things,” Musi said.

On another occasion, Musi and Schneider were covering a dangerous derailment where emergency workers were trying desperately to plug a leak in an overturned rail car full of poisonous gas. “I sat up on top of a bluff with my 600-millimeter lens, hidden because I was inside the evacuation area, and I saw Andy right down by the rail car in a HazMat suit with a notepad in his hand.”

Even though he won many awards, Musi said, Schneider was driven by public service, not accolades. “It was about helping people who couldn’t help themselves,” he said. “He never forgot that.”

Don Winslow, now the managing editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, worked with Schneider in Pittsburgh, where their desks were side by side. He said Saturday, “I spent 12 or 14 hours a day staring at his back as he was interviewing people. It was a master’s degree in journalism, listening to how he asked questions.”

His managing editor at the Press, Madalyn Ross, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Saturday that Schneider should be remembered for more than the two Pulitzers.

“What he really should be known for is setting the standard for quality journalism,” she told the newspaper.

Flaherty said, “For many years in many cities, (Andy) delivered a body of work that held movers and shakers accountable to the moved and shaken. We should all be so lucky to leave that as our legacy.”

Kimberly Hartnett was a 19-year-old rookie reporter in Concord, NH, when she met Schneider. One of the stories she remembers working with him on was the anti-nuclear protests at Seabrook, NH, in the ’70s. “He made sure we were covering it like a blanket,” she said. “With stories like that it’s easy to cover from the sidelines, talk to two protesters and one police official and file. Andy didn’t believe that. He didn’t believe in quitting on a story. For him there was never an end to the reporting.”

She said he was generous to a fault. “You had to be careful, going to his house,” she said. “If you said, ‘that’s a nice chair,’ he would soon be sending you that chair or one just like it.”

Andrew Jay Schneider was born Nov. 13, 1942, in the Bronx, but spent much of his childhood in Miami. His father, Jack, was a chef and maitre d’ at the famed Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach and his mother, Fran, was a waitress there — a background that helped produce Schneider’s formidable culinary skills.

Reported in the Helena Independent Record

David McCumber is editor of The Montana Standard in Butte. With Andrew Schneider, he co-authored “An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana Uncovered a National Scandal.”

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