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Saying Goodbye to a Friend, Literary Star

Suzette Standring remembers friend and author Jeff Zaslow, who passed away at age 53. Zaslow was the keynote speaker at the 2010 Milton Public Library Gala.

His wife and three daughters buried Jeff Zaslow on the day before Valentine's Day in Michigan. His tragic death brought on by his car colliding with a semi truck in North Lansing on February 10. Like a comet, he streaked the literary landscape with brilliance, and all too soon at age 53, he was gone.

If you didn't know Jeff Zaslow personally, then surely you've heard of
his bestselling books, The Last Lecture, The Girls from Ames, Highest Duty:
My Search for What Really Matters (Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger), and Gabby
(Gabrielle Giffords). His newest work is The Magic Room: A Story About The
Love We Wish For Our Daughters. Again, Jeff had sounded a resonant chord in
our collective hearts.

What is life, but memories that move you? Sometimes we are transformed
by experiences that don't even belong to us. Jeff had the rare ability to
mine and then share a subject's most shining moments. How he could find the
perfect gems out of voluminous files, interviews, and notes is beyond most
writers. Yet he did, and strung together a bright necklace of life stories.
Read any one and wear it around your heart as your very own.

If you knew "Zazz" as a friend, you were blessed. I first met him when
we both served on the board of The National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
At the time he wrote the column, Moving On, for The Wall Street Journal, and
had co-authored The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch. This chronicler of
heartfelt moments had a wicked sense of humor, and he could talk machine gun
fast.

His bestselling books had put him in a global spotlight, earning
literary stardom's big bucks. Yet for very little bucks, he spoke at a 2010
Milton Public Library fundraiser here in Milton.  When I invited him, he made it sound like I was doing him the favor.

At the gala, during my introduction, I said, "Jeff has appeared on The Tonight Show, Oprah, Larry King Live, 60 Minutes, The Today Show and Good Morning America.  Jeff, I'm sure you'll be adding the Milton Public Library to this prestigious list."

Earlier in the day, I was eager to offer a home-cooked lunch, and he was
hungry for roasted salmon. Yet during the meal he hardly touched his food.
My goal for the fish to be "moist," resulted in "somewhat sushi."

"Oh, Jeff, is it too raw?"

"No, no, not at all," he lied, "I can't appreciate good food. I'm weird. Even my steaks are really well done. I mean who does that?"  My face fell,
but he got me laughing, and then rallied by saying, "So let's go to the
Milton Library and take a look around. I want to see this place I'm raising
money for."

We've had big name speakers in the past ­ David Halberstam, Art
Buchwald, Geraldine Brooks ­ but nobody had ever asked to tour the library
before. Our newly renovated public library was originally built in 1904, and
Jeff saw the new open spaces, the skylights, books, new computers, and the
bright upholstery. He whistled in awe, and said, "Wow, this is probably the
most beautiful library I've ever seen. Does Milton realize what it has?"

I said, "Yeah, that's why you're here."

That night he killed the crowd with his typical Zaslow zest. Back in 1987 over 12,000 writers had vied to replace Ann Landers, and Jeff won the top spot. He shared a story from his 14-year stint as an advice columnist for The Chicago Sun Times. One male reader wrote to complain that his girlfriend's breast size was too small and he wanted her to go for enhancement surgery. Jeff shared his reply, "Every woman deserves to be loved exactly as she is. She doesn't need surgery. She's already got a big boob. You."

Jeff had a great sensitivity to women because he so loved his wife
Sherry Margolis, and his three daughters, Alex, Jordan, and Eden.
Everything he discovered in his writing life, the people he met, the lessons
he learned, all had a way of circling back to the four loves of his life.

"Zazz" was a good friend to many and a great encourager. Over the years,
Jeff and I emailed. When I shared my book project, "Have Stepstool, Will
Travel: Petite Women Speak of Stature," he was supportive.  From time to
time, an email would pop up, "So, where are you with that project?" Like all
writers, I had ups, downs, and stumbling blocks. "You write with a lot of
heart. Dream big!" he wrote to me.

His writing was as rare as he was - a great listener who dove into the
other person's heart to turn on the lights and have a real look around.
Then Jeff didn't just surface with a good story. He carried back the
glowing essence of truth, and I believe God turns his face to such beauty.

For more of Suzette Standring's work visit www.readsuzette.com. She can be reached at suzmar@comcast.net.

Ruth Baltopoulos February 18, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Suzette's heartfelt remembrances make me wish I had known "Zazz" other than through the written word. It was a pleasure to read such a thoughtful, warm tribute to a wonderful man whose time with us was unfortunately short.
Connie Spiros February 18, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Suzette, thank you for writing such a lovely tribute to a great writer and a very special man.

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