Andrew Schneider, an acclaimed investigative reporter and public-health journalist, died Friday. He was 74.
Schneider, who lived in Missoula, died of heart failure in Salt Lake City, where he was being treated for pulmonary disease.
Schneider, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor, was remembered by many of his colleagues Saturday as a relentless, inspiring reporter who built indelible relationships with people from all walks of life – colleagues, news sources, and the ordinary people on whose behalf he worked.
Schneider won two Pulitzer Prizes while working at the Pittsburgh Press – one for specialized reporting in 1986 and another for Public Service in 1987.
The public service Pulitzer was for “Danger in the Cockpit,” co-written with Matthew Brelis and photographed by Vincent Musi, a story revealing dangerous gaps in airline safety, including the fact that pilots with alcohol and drug issues were not prevented from flying. The 1986 winner, written with reporter Mary Pat Flaherty, detailed violations and failures in the organ transplantation system in U.S. medicine.
Schneider’s wife, the journalist Kathy Best, is editor of The Missoulian in Missoula and a former editor of The Seattle Times. The couple moved to Missoula last year when she took the job at the Missoulian. Since his arrival in Montana, Schneider had been working part-time as a public health reporter for Lee Montana Newspapers.
Flaherty, now with the Washington Post, said Saturday, "The man never had anything but a big, big plan when it came to a story he was chasing and if you were part of the hunt he raised your game, too."
Later, working for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he broke the story of the asbestos contamination of Libby, Montana, which ended up making global headlines and resulted in an EPA Superfund cleanup that continues today, nearly two decades later. More than 400 people have died and a thousand more are sick in the tiny town of Libby due to asbestos-related disease. He co-wrote the book “An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana Uncovered a National Scandal,” published by Putnam in 2004, and then wrote an updated version, “An Air that Still Kills,” which was honored last year as iBook of the Year by iBA.
The community of scientists and public-health advocates who have worked on asbestos issues for years remembered Schneider Saturday.
“In the 45 years I’ve worked on asbestos and other public-health issues, I’ve worked with a lot of journalists,” said public health scientist Barry Castleman. “Andy Schneider was by far the best.”
“For decades, he passionately fought for truth and justice for asbestos victims of the past, present and future,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
Keven McDermott of Seattle, retired manager of field investigations for EPA's Region 10, worked with Schneider on several stories. She said Schneider "was our hero, our friend, our inspiration. He encouraged us to be brave and do good work. He told the stories that needed to be told and saved lives in the process. He will be forever missed.”
The photographer Musi marveled at Schneider’s “insatiable curiosity” and his refusal to quit on a story – a sentiment echoed by several colleagues.
His skill at befriending news sources led him to achieve a kind of access to information journalists almost never get today. Staff at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh became so used to seeing him that they gave him a lab coat and a “Dr. Schneider” name tag to wear.
Musi remembered Schneider talking his way behind secured areas at Miami International Airport. “People wanted to tell him things,” Musi said.
On another occasion, Musi and Schneider were covering a dangerous derailment where emergency workers were trying desperately to plug a leak in an overturned rail car full of poisonous gas. “I sat up on top of a bluff with my 600-millimeter lens, hidden because I was inside the evacuation area, and I saw Andy right down by the rail car in a HazMat suit with a notepad in his hand.”
Even though he won many awards, Musi said, Schneider was driven by public service, not accolades. “It was about helping people who couldn’t help themselves,” he said. “He never forgot that.”
Don Winslow, now the managing editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, worked with Schneider in Pittsburgh, where their desks were side by side. He said Saturday, “I spent 12 or 14 hours a day staring at his back as he was interviewing people. It was a master’s degree in journalism, listening to how he asked questions.”
His managing editor at the Press, Madalyn Ross, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Saturday that Schneider should be remembered for more than the two Pulitzers.
“What he really should be known for is setting the standard for quality journalism.”
Flaherty said, "For many years in many cities, (Andy) delivered a body of work that held movers and shakers accountable to the moved and shaken. We should all be so lucky to leave that as our legacy."
Kimberly Hartnett was a 19-year-old rookie reporter in Concord, N.H., when she met Schneider. One of the stories she remembers working with him on was the anti-nuclear protests at Seabrook, N.H. in the '70s. “He made sure we were covering it like a blanket,” she said. “With stories like that it’s easy to cover from the sidelines, talk to two protesters and one police official and file. Andy didn’t believe that. He didn’t believe in quitting on a story. For him there was never an end to the reporting.”
She said he was generous to a fault. "You had to be careful, going to his house," she said. "If you said, 'that's a nice chair,' he would soon be sending you that chair or one just like it."
Andrew Jay Schneider was born November 13, 1942, in the Bronx, but spent much of his childhood in Miami. His father Jack was a chef and maitre d’ at the famed Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach and his mother Fran was a waitress there – a background that helped produce Schneider’s formidable culinary skills.
While working in Washington, D.C., as a Scripps-Howard Bureau reporter, he was known for throwing dinner parties on the spur of the moment in his Capitol Hill home. He hosted Thanksgiving for those with no local family.
“I got invited there twice,” remembers Joann Byrd, at that time ombudsman for The Washington Post. “The food was spectacular and all of us crowded around to watch him cook on a restaurant-sized stove.”
Byrd, who was editorial page editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer during Schneider’s tenure there, said, “He was always on the side of people who were suffering or being treated badly. And he never stopped reporting any story.”
Soon after he arrived in Seattle, Schneider and reporter Mike Barber collaborated on a series of stories about a supposed child sex ring in Wenatchee, Wash., ultimately exposing the supposed ring as a fraud and freeing more than 40 people from jail.
Byrd said that while “Andy had thousands of stories about his reporting and photojournalism,” he was never self-aggrandizing, but rather was “famous for supporting and affirming everyone he knew.”
His son, Patrick Schneider, is a photographer in Charlotte, N.C. He said Saturday, “My dad made me the photojournalist, father and man that I am today. He taught me to always push to be my best.” He remembered that when he became obsessed with photojournalism as a young boy, he would sleep with a police scanner in his room and then wake his father to get a ride to the scene of a crime or accident so he could photograph it. “He never once complained,” Patrick Schneider said. “I think the best day of his life was when I got my driver’s license and he could get a good night’s sleep.”
Early in his career, Schneider covered the Vietnam War as a freelance photographer, working for Life, Newsweek and Time magazines. He became by necessity a writer as well as a photographer, which prepared him well for work with the Associated Press when he returned stateside.
Many of his colleagues remember him cooking meals, for small groups or entire newsrooms. Wherever Schneider went in his career, a newly remodeled kitchen and great food would surely follow.
“Andy was a force of nature,” said investigative reporter Bill Lambrecht. “He was the fiercest antagonist, the truest advocate, the most loyal friend, the most generous host and cook. He would hear none of it when someone in his business bemoaned having little good to write about.
“He would say, ‘So many stories, so little time.’”
Schneider is survived by his wife, Kathy Best; two children, Kelly Schneider of Seattle, and Patrick Schneider of Charlotte, N.C.; his former wife Carol Schneider of Charlotte; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned but arrangements are not yet set.