Journalism has some built-in drawbacks: long hours, tight deadlines and friends who are also journalists, which means they tend to write things about you when you can no longer defend yourself.
Our friend John Curran died Saturday, Sept. 17. He had just turned 54 and had a heart attack while mowing his lawn in Montpelier, Vt. That kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. Not to John. Not yet.
John was the Associated Press reporter stationed in Atlantic City from 1994 to 2006 and if you cared anything about southern New Jersey during that time, you read his stuff. He covered the biggest stories of the day and wrote features about quirky local people. He was a bulldog about getting the facts and getting them first, but he also reviewed casino shows and restaurants. Because he worked out of The Press newsroom, he could sometimes be found throwing a football in our parking lot while waiting for someone to call him back.
John was a big guy with a fondness for bow ties. You didn’t have to know him long to think that his entire large frame was filled with jokes. Terrible, corny jokes. He’d break them out with very little encouragement. But as much time as he spent making people laugh, what really set him apart for me was his own laugh. See, he was as full of life as he was bad jokes, and he had a laugh that was big, frequent and generous. He could make anybody feel like the funniest person in the room. It came from a big heart that made him a good reporter and a good friend.
When he was offered a promotion to move to Vermont in 2006, he agonized about relocating his family. But they all thrived there. His wife, Tricia, his son, Patrick, and his daughters, Julie and Mary Grace. And they all came back to Ocean City every summer, so John could get his fix of the beach and the rest of us could get our fix of John.
There are a couple of pictures of John on this page. One shows him covered in mud, riding on the back of an ATV to get to a town that was cut off by the recent flooding in Vermont. Doing his job and having a great time. There’s another picture, one I especially like. He’d probably say that’s because it’s taken from the back and shows his good side. It was taken in 2001. Former President Bill Clinton was speaking at the Atlantic City Convention Center and didn’t allow any reporters to attend. So John and a few other reporters — that’s The Press’ Donald Wittkowski on his right — just leaned up against the doors and took their notes. That was the Curran attitude: You can keep me out, but you can’t keep me from filing my story.
My favorite story about John involves a crime scene. It was a shooting in a trailer park, a big enough deal that even graphic artists like me were hanging out at the police barricade, waiting for information. While I jostled for position nervously, John, who’d been to plenty of crime scenes before and knew how long this might take, walked over to his car, popped the trunk, pulled out a lawn chair and made himself comfortable.
John Curran knew the secret. He’d mastered the art: Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.