Jim Dwyer, About New York


Jim Dwyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist, died on Thursday after a four-decade career in journalism. Here’s a selection of his writing for The New York Times, where he had worked since 2001, as chosen by his colleagues.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Dwyer described how Jan Demczur, a window washer, used a squeegee to free himself and others from an elevator that had been trapped on the 50th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

They faced a wall, stenciled with the number “50.” That particular elevator bank did not serve the 50th floor, so there was no need for an opening. To escape, they would have to make one themselves. Mr. Demczur felt the wall. Sheetrock. Having worked in construction in his early days as a Polish immigrant, he knew that it could be cut with a sharp knife. No one had a knife. From his bucket, Mr. Demczur drew his squeegee.

In a 2002 article written with Eric Lipton, Kevin Flynn, James Glanz and Ford Fessenden, Mr. Dwyer helped pieced together the last phone conversations, emails and voice mail messages of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks to create a chronicle of the final 102 minutes at the World Trade Center. The reporting was later expanded into a book by Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Flynn.

Yet like messages in an electronic bottle from people marooned in some distant sky, their last words narrate a world that was coming undone. A man sends an email message asking, “Any news from the outside?” before perching on a ledge at Windows on the World. A woman reports a colleague is smacking useless sprinkler heads with his shoe. A husband calmly reminds his wife about their insurance policies, then says that the floor is groaning beneath him, and tells her that she and their children meant the world to him.

No single call can describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible velocities in many places. Taken together though, the words from the upper floors offer not only a broad and chilling view of the devastated zones, but the only window onto acts of bravery, decency and grace at a brutal time.

After George Steinbrenner, the bombastic owner of the New York Yankees, died in 2010, Mr. Dwyer posited that “maybe the rule against speaking ill of the dead does not apply to rich lunatic uncles.”

The life of George Steinbrenner is a ramp across modern New York, a bridge that spans the whirlpool of one man’s spinning psyche and the transformation of America’s biggest, baddest city. He raged. He wept. He won. He brought back prodigals, forgave them their urine tests. He broke laws, promises, lives. He did charity. He grafted his ego onto the back pages of newspapers. He blasted Frank Sinatra through stadium loudspeakers. He championed ordinary New Yorkers, then took them for every last penny.

In 2012, Mr. Dwyer wrote the first of several pieces about Rory Staunton, a 12-year-old Queens boy who died of septic shock after he dived for a basketball at his school and cut his arm. Mr. Dwyer’s reporting raised questions about whether doctors should have acted on signs of sepsis earlier. New York State later ordered changes that led to earlier detection and treatment and fewer deaths from sepsis.

For a moment, an emergency room doctor stepped away from the scrum of people working on Rory Staunton, 12, and spoke to his parents.

“Your son is seriously ill,” the doctor said.

“How seriously?” Rory’s mother, Orlaith Staunton, asked.

The doctor paused.

“Gravely ill,” he said.

How could that be?

After a gunman stormed an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children and six adults in 2012, Mr. Dwyer told the story of one family’s race to find their daughter at the school that day.

As Ms. Urbina headed for the door, her phone began buzzing with text messages from friends and other parents. It is a 20-minute drive from Bethel to the school. The landscape rolled by unseen; a friend from the other end of town spoke to her on her cellphone, relaying news from someone who was monitoring a police scanner. None of it told her what she wanted to know: What about Lenie, her 9-year-old daughter?


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