We're digesting the news that Leigh Weimers, a legendary journalist in San Jose, has passed away after a heart procedure he'd blogged about just the other day (http://leighweimers.blogspot.com/). He was 76.
I was in the newsroom on Leigh's last day in 2005. As he walked out, after 40 years as a columnist and nearly 50 on the job, the staff gave him a standing ovation. He was tremendously dedicated to this community, even in retirement, and always willing to mentor a young-punk journalist. He was gracious in the face of change and had a voracious appetite for work. (I asked him once how he felt about having his column moved from the section front to inside; he said he'd done it on the condition that they let him write every day. That's a hell of a feat to pull off, but he had such an endless stack of pitches from community groups eager to get their news out that I think Leigh felt a responsibility to help.)
Leigh, a San Jose State grad, began working here in an era of typewriters and copy boys. In his final column for the Mercury News, he noted that "there were only 148,200 people living in San Jose in 1958, when I started work here as a general-assignment reporter. Shopping malls, those vacuum cleaners of commerce that leave so many downtowns with a giant sucking sound, hadn't been invented." It was also just a year after the Traitorous Eight formed Fairchild Semiconductor and began the process of turning a still-agricultural area into Silicon Valley. (Leigh himself had picked prunes as a boy in Napa Valley.) San Jose is now America's 10th largest city, with nearly a million residents.
I ran into Leigh a few weeks ago at the San Jose Jazz Festival (where he'd once served as grand marshal, his face plastered on the Monopoly-type faux money people would buy to exchange for food and drink from the booth vendors). He looked very frail; I was shocked, because even well into his 70s Leigh had always seemed robust. A mutual friend told me later that Leigh had blogged about his recently discovered heart problem; in what was probably the last thing he ever published after decades of journalism, he promised in that final post to write about the surgery "when I’m back."
I've been unfortunate to see a lot of colleagues leave this newspaper over the years, and to see a few pass away. It's always tragic, but this one really hurts. Silicon Valley has lost a great advocate, and journalism has lost a guiding light.
UPDATE: San Jose State has a scholarship fund in Leigh's honor. Go to www.sjsu.edu/giving, click on "give now," then click "Leigh Weimers Journalism Scholarship Fund."
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