The sad passing of John Craig
News that former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor John Craig died yesterday at his Sewickley home caught me off guard this morning. I had known John was critically ill, but the mere thought of him being gone from the Pittsburgh scene seems so alien and wrong.
I first met the “sometimes acerbic” journalist, as he has been described fondly by his friends and admirers, when I was working as press secretary to U.S. Senator John Heinz. We came in to meet with the Post-Gazette editorial staff, and John stood out for his good humor, skeptical manner and tough questions.
That mix was quintessentially John Craig. He was tough but fair minded, always probing, and always driven by grand ideas. Years later, when I was heading up strategy for a local ad agency, John came to me to talk about a project he wanted to pursue to transform Pittsburgh’s under-utilized and sadly abused riverfronts. I put him together with Max King, who had recently started as head of the Heinz Endowments, and a grand ambition–shared by Mayor Tom Murphy and Teresa Heinz, to transform Pittsburgh’s waterfront into a world-class amenity–was born.
Paul O’Neill, who led the Riverlife Task Force in its early days alongside John, has described him as its driving force. There’s little doubt he was one of its most essential dynamos, unabashedly and persistently pushing for quality development and happily willing to question anything he found aesthetically lacking.
Diplomatic niceties fell to other players on the task force; John was after greatness for Pittsburgh, and he wasn’t about to let anyone – be they property owners, developers, foundation executives or city officials – get away with cutting corners.
In recent years, John has been the driving force behind Pittsburgh Today, an initiative to help our region make smarter decisions about its future by using real data to measure how we are doing. John’s commitment to building a community marked by big ambitions and real information may seem an anachronism in an age when the “journalists” we know best are paid to shriek at each other on whatever media is available.
Maybe that’s why I’ll miss him even more. He may have pushed us hard sometimes, but the passion that drove him, his deep love for this community, was one we could all be proud to share.