By Ray O’Hanlon
Jim Dwyer, one of New York’s most prominent journalists over the last three decades and one of Irish America’s journalistic greats, has died at age 63. The cause of death was complications from lung cancer.
In the course of a Pulitzer Prize-winning career that took him from the Daily News to New York Newsday, and ultimately to the New York Times, Dwyer cut a swath, in one respect literally, through the New York City subway system by means of his hugely popular subway columns in New York Newsday.
As the Washington Post reported in its obituary, Mr. Dwyer, a native New Yorker and the son of Irish immigrants, followed in a long tradition of newsprint bards who walked the city’s streets, chatted with strangers and reveled in the city’s grit and glamour.
“While working successively at New York Newsday, the Daily News and the New York Times, he also wrote six books, on subjects as varied as the city’s subway system, terrorist attacks and a group of college students creating an Internet company — and was featured as a character in a Broadway play by Nora Ephron.
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“In 1995, when Mr. Dwyer won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at New York Newsday, his editor, Donald Forst, called him ‘quintessential New York. He is smart and wise, tough and compassionate. And he has a touch of the poet in him which shows in his writing.’”
Dwyer, according to the obituary, belonged to a storied group of New York tabloid columnists whose names and faces were familiar to millions, including Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill and Murray Kempton, who had inspired Mr. Dwyer during his youth.
Dwyer moved from New York Newsday to the Daily News in 1995 when the former closed down. He joined the Times in 2001 where he would pen the “About New York” column.
According to the obituary, James Gerard Dwyer was born March 4, 1957, in New York and grew up on East 95th Street in Manhattan. His mother was a nurse at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, his father a public school custodian.
Dwyer attended Catholic schools and began publishing a mimeographed newspaper with friends while in high school. He attended Fordham University in the Bronx, aiming for a career in medicine but was drawn to journalism. After he tried to help a man having a seizure on a street, he wrote about it for the school paper, showing the hallmarks of his later work:
After graduating in 1979, he received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1980, then worked at newspapers in New Jersey before joining Newsday in 1984.
In 1981, he married Catherine “Cathy” Muir. In addition to his wife survivors include two daughters, Maura Dwyer of Brooklyn, Catherine Dwyer of West Philadelphia, and three brothers.
A memo circulating in the Times newsroom following the news of Dwyer’s passing described him as “a wondrously inventive writer and a relentlessly dogged street reporter. He was a crusader for those facing injustice, and a chronicler of everyday lives on the subway. He had more friends than almost anyone in journalism because he was brilliant and thoughtful and very funny.”
Senator Charles Schumer, in a statement, said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of a great New Yorker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Dwyer.
“His loss leaves a gaping hole in the New York media landscape and in our hearts. His compassion, curiosity, deep knowledge of the Big Apple, Irish pride and innate sense of justice gave him a rare insight into the beating heart of New York.
“And his extraordinary writing skill enabled Jim to tell those stories in compelling ways that informed the mind, made one smile and often stirred the soul. My condolences to his family, his fellow journalists, and all who knew and loved Jim.”
Jim Mulvaney, a fellow Pulitzer Prize recipient and onetime colleague of Dwyer’s at New York Newsday said: “Jim Dwyer was a writing legend and the ultimate New Yorker. Whether it was oppressed Catholics in Northern Ireland or victims of 9/11 Jim wrote about them with grit and grace.
“I still remember being with Jim in a Catholic home in West Belfast in 1999 when the Northern Ireland Assembly first opened and observing the hope and compassion he shared with that long suffering family. RIP.”