Jim Dwyer, veteran columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, dead at 63

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jim Dwyer died on Thursday, leaving as his legacy four decades of stories about life in New York.

Dwyer — whose career spanned the the New York Daily News, New York Newsday and most recently the New York Times — was known for drawing readers in with riveting tales of city life. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, for example, he wrote about a window washer who used the backend of a squeegee to burrow through some sheetrock on the 50th floor of the South Tower, which allowed six people trapped in an elevator to escape as the North Tower collapsed.

Dwyer worked for 11 years at Newsday, followed by six at the Daily News and was hired as a metro reporter at the New York Times in May 2001, four months before the terror attacks at the World Trade Center.

On Sept. 12, 2001 he wrote: “New Yorkers were members of a tribe in shock, tied in knots and easily moved to sudden tears and swift kindnesses. People moved through Midtown without the ordinary get-out-of-my way pace. They listened to radios. They grabbed one-minute updates from strangers. They spoke urgently into cell phones. They waited quietly in long lines — no shoving, no impatient words — at the pay phones on street corners. The hundreds who sat or stood under outdoor jumbo electronic television screens were virtually silent; it was no time for small talk.”

Dwyer first garnered attention during his long career at Newsday, where he started out in 1984 covering the Queens courts before moving on to a columnist jobs that included a series of stories about the NYC subway system. His deep MTA contacts helped Newsday win a team Pulitzer Prize for a Manhattan subway derailment in Manhattan in 1992. He also won a Pulitzer in 1995 for Newsday columns that spoke to death, teens, drugs and injustice. Dwyer went on to write prolifically about issues of racial injustice at The Times.

“Today our hearts are broken,” said Thomas Maier, a New York Newsday veteran who was a year ahead of Dwyer at Fordham University and convinced him to begin writing for the student newspaper, the Fordham Ran. “Jim was a bio major and he was thinking about becoming a doctor,” recalled Maier.

In an obit interview with The Times prior to his death, Dwyer himself also recalled ditching medicine for journalism: “I intended to be pre-med, but The Fordham Ram got in the way of that. It was a crusading student newspaper. I couldn’t resist it. It was a joy for me to discover how much I loved reporting and writing.”

“He was the most alive person I ever met,” said Maier. “His empathy for every human being was evident in every column he ever wrote.”

His death Thursday at Memorial Sloan Kettering from complications from lung cancer was announced by New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet and metro editor Cliff Levy in an email to the staff. Dwyer was 63.

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