Fritz Jacobi, who was always great at calling a scoop when he saw one, missed out on the best scoop of his life. The title Fritz could have chosen for this scoop: “Man Dies on Park Bench of Natural Causes.”
Today I learned from his son Mike Jacobi that my dear first boss, a friend and mentor since 1982, public relations expert and magazine writer, Fritz Jacobi, 96, left this life just as he lived it, with an eye for the sweet and
ironic. He took his last gasp in spring fresh air on a park bench not far from his home.
Fritz Jacobi was my first writing teacher, my best writing teacher, my boss at the Museum of Broadcasting in 1982 and then my boss for the next five years at Columbia Business School, where he took me to be his assistant. Thanks to Fritz, who inducted me into the world of public relations and journalism, my life was forever changed.
At Columbia, I discovered Japan. Columbia alumni magazine gave me the writing assignment in Tokyo interviewing Japanese alumni that would set me on a thirty year journey far away from New York City and Fritz. But somehow we never lost touch. We were both born under the Virgo sign and so I never forgot his birthday. When I visited New York I stopped by his apartment on 91 Central Park West to say hello before and later with baby Miriam in tow. Fritz encouraged me enormously to be a writer and inspired me to help other writers get their start.
At the Museum of Broadcasting and Columbia Business School, where we worked together to field questions from the press and entice them through press releases to come to our events, he made it all so quaint and simple. Fritz would be typing away on a vintage black Underwood complete with carriage return, ribbon spool and elevated key tops. He had a funny ritual preceding writing which I never could quite adopt because it required deeper pockets than my skirts ever had. Fritz pace the floor of his office back and forth jingling spare change in his pocket. When the room fell silent the clacking of his typewriter would take over. So this is what it meant to be a writer. You prepare, you write, you revise. And afterward, you’d go for a swim. I was 22 when I started working for Fritz and he was ancient in my eyes at 60! But after writing an article, he’d head over to the Columbia Univ swimming pool for a few laps and to oggle the girls and become young again.
I know the hardest day of his life during his Columbia Business School years was that Monday when he asked me to come into his office and after five years of listening to those coins jingle and following his impeccably polite and respectful orders, he asked me if he could have a word with me. A word. Uh oh. He didn’t want to–I knew that. He had promoted me to rank of Business School officer which in addition to such perks as free graduate school tuition and fabulous gourmet buffet lunches at the Faculty Club, came with the less happy distinction of being the most recent officer in a department that had run over budget and required cutting corners. So I was the corner cut. Fritz made sure I left with a severance package to ensure that my graduate school tuition was fully paid so I could get my MFA in arts administration. At a time in my life when my parents marriage had fallen apart, Fritz Jacobi was the grownup who kept me on course literally, figuratively, and with a whole lot of love I say RIP Fritz Jacobi. He set me on a life path toward Japan and for that I’ll thank him when we meet on heaven’s park bench.