Rhode Island has lost one of its finest reporters, Peter LordApril 5th, 2012 at 11:29 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Peter Lord, The Providence Journal’s longtime environmental reporter, passed away Wednesday at the age of 60, after a long battle with brain cancer. The tributes have been pouring in from all corners ever since the sad news emerged.
“Peter Lord was a first-class journalist and first-class person, with a fiery, old-fashioned passion for reporting and for enlightening the public, especially about the environment,” retired Journal columnist M. Charles Bakst told me in an email last night.
“Ideally, all of us should be stewards of the earth, but in my view Peter considered it his direct, personal responsibility,” Charlie said. “His career and his decency will continue to inspire all who knew him.”
While I would never claim Pete and I were close friends, I’d like to share my own small story that helps explain why so many of us are remembering him today as a wonderful man and a generous mentor.
Back in the winter of 2009, I was a staff writer at Providence Business News on the environmental beat. It was a tough time in the newspaper business, with layoff announcements and grim forecasts on Romenesko almost every day. I knew I wanted to stay in journalism, but I also knew I needed to get better if I was going to make it in such a tough environment.
At some point, I heard about the annual fellowships for science journalists at the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting in Narragansett. I wanted to apply but figured I didn’t have much of a shot, since PBN is a small paper and I was a nobody, with few connections in the media.
Looking on their website, I saw that Peter was co-director of Metcalf’s journalism program. I’d never met Peter but I recognized his name right away from his writing, which was always the first source I reviewed when I got an assignment. He’d been covering the environment for The Journal since before I was born, and every story he wrote demonstrated his mastery of the subject.
I decided to email him and ask whether I should apply, hoping he might even put in a good word for me. But I was also nervous about it – The Journal was the paper of record, and Pete was the environmental reporter in Rhode Island. Who was I to ask him for help?
Nevertheless, eventually I sent him a short email, prepared to never hear back. But that wasn’t Pete: he wrote back within an hour, told me I should absolutely apply, and said I should keep him informed about my progress. A few months later I got a letter saying Metcalf had selected me for the fellowship, and I credit Pete for that. I know many other young reporters have similar stories, and the Metcalf alumni listserv has lit up over the last 18 hours with tributes to him.
I remember talking to Pete at dinner one night during the weeklong fellowship about his own career. In the late 1980s, he told me, The Journal took him off the daily reporting grind for weeks so he could put together an entire special section of the paper on a major environmental issue of the day. (It might have been the CSO, but don’t quote me on that.) I know now that was only one of the many in-depth series he wrote over the years, on subjects like lead paint, the science of the Station fire, right whales and Block Island.
In 2010, our paths crossed on a different beat – politics – when we both covered the 1st Congressional District race. As Scott MacKay pointed out Wednesday, Pete wasn’t exactly thrilled to be pulled off his usual subject – he lit up when the discussion turned to climate change, his home turf – but he approached it with his usual diligence, professionalism and dry humor. It was great fun sitting with him and the AP’s Eric Tucker during the debates at PPAC.
Details about services and where to direct donations will be released within the next day or so. In the meantime, like everybody else, my heart goes out to Peter’s family and his many friends at The Journal, the Metcalf Institute and elsewhere. I know I’ll miss seeing him around, and I know the whole state will miss reading him.
(photo: The Providence Journal)