WASHINGTON (AP) — Randy Schmidt, a retired Associated Press science writer who rarely missed a chance to add a whimsical twist to his authoritative stories, has died.
Schmidt, 78, died Sunday at a nursing home in Falls Church, Va., said Mike Bobal, whose late wife was Schmidt’s cousin. Staff at the nursing home said he had been watching TV and joking with the staff the night before.
His colleagues at the AP remembered Schmid (whose name was Randolph E. Schmid) as a skilled reporter who could find a simple way to present complex subjects.
“The hallmark of Schmid’s story is lightness, brevity, pun whenever possible and, above all, speed,” wrote Seth Borenstein, another AP science writer, on Schmid’s retirement in 2011. competitors have previously complained that he appears to have been tipped off about stories or press conferences. He didn’t do that.”
The former boss in Washington noted Schmid’s playful touch with language.
“Randy was a dedicated science writer, but he never missed an opportunity to try to inject a pun into a headline or lead. He was a classic AP journalist through and through,” said Sandy K. Johnson, who was the AP’s Washington bureau chief from 1998-2008.
One recent AP story demonstrated Schmid’s easy-going approach.
“It may not be Sonny and Cher, but some South American birds take turns singing a duet when a tune is played,” the story began.
“Colleagues who were stuck on prompts often turned to Randy for help, and we often turned to him as a ghostwriter. It was a phrase he hated, but a role he cherished,” Washington news editor Carol Feldman said.
Bob Furlow, AP copy editor, described Schmid as “a solid reporter who also remains a champion of the unconventional. He could find nuggets that others missed in the Census Bureau or other government reports that turned to gold on his keyboard.”
Furlow added: “We’ll be giving him a special salute on Sunday for Daylight Savings Time, one of his favorite topics, as he delivers a few hundred words of fun around the half-yearly reminders.”
Schmid, of West Carthage, N.Y., started at the AP as a reporter in the Albany bureau in 1968 and was a correspondent in Memphis from 1969 to 1973, where he periodically had to fend off rumors of Elvis Presley’s death, Mike Bobal said.
In 1973, he joined the AP’s Washington bureau and worked his way up from reporter to science writer, earning a master’s degree in meteorology.
“He loved working for AP,” Bobal said. “He enjoyed trying to get the public to understand things, whether it was the weather or climate change.”
Schmidt enjoyed traveling with his wife, Marcia, who died in 2004. Bobal said Schmid was “never the same after that,” but remained close to Bobal’s family and remained gregarious and a voracious reader.
“Randy is delighted to find just the right slice of pop culture to make science news fun and accessible,” said Laurent Nirgaard, AP medical writer. “Transforming Optics? It was like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak for Randy. Bacteria in shower heads? He called this news the worst since Psycho. He was consistently kind – and the king of puns.
“Even after retirement, Randy would e-mail some new piece of science humor several times a month while meeting with friends and colleagues,” Nirgaard said. “And when Randy moved into a nursing home, he had the photo collage that AP presented to him for retirement — pictures of some of his favorite stories — hanging right in front of his bed, ready to reminisce with visitors.”
And many of these stories are memorable.
“Many of the most interesting, fun, and important science stories that people read in the last generation,” Borenstein said, “came from Randy Schmid.”
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