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Jeffrey Weiss’ final story was his own

Jeffrey Weiss, photographed at his home in Dallas on Tuesday, December 27, 2016. In the background is his father's typewriter. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

(RNS) — Jeffrey Weiss, a highly respected reporter and RNS columnist who chronicled his spiritual journey with brain cancer, has died. He was 62.

Weiss died in his home in Dallas on Wednesday (Oct. 25).

He was diagnosed in December 2016 with glioblastoma, an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer, and devoted much of the time he had left to his RNS column, My Way to the Egress.


READ: My Way to the Egress


He was a tenacious journalist, writing for the past 29 years at The Dallas Morning News, where he took on a variety of beats, including religion, education and the energy sector.

He was also an avowed geek, curious about everything and willing to tackle complicated issues and write about them with precision, wit and humor.

His trademark stories often examined the intersection of religious doctrine and popular culture, grappling with religious themes in superhero movies, spirituality in the Harry Potter book series and why the Westboro Baptist Church, known for attacks on gays, “inspired others to do good in response.”

“He was one of the best reporters I ever knew,” said Bruce Tomaso, who edited the religion section at the Morning News from 2003 to 2007. “There was no subject under the sun that he couldn’t write about, write lucidly, and get a lot of satisfaction writing about it.”

Weiss, who described himself as an agnostic Jew, was proud of the friendships he struck during his long and storied journalism career. His 1,400 Facebook friends included Jews, Muslims and Christians of all political and cultural persuasions.

Just last week, the Dallas Peace and Justice Center recognized his accomplishments by announcing that he had won the 2017 Media Accountability Award.

In September, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Religion News Association. His last column for RNS was published Sept. 8.

Tyra Damm, a former editor at the Morning News, who worked with Weiss on the religion section, said she appreciated his respect for other faiths.

“He said, ‘Everything looks weird to an outsider,’” Damm said. “He would talk about accepting prayers wherever he went because he interviewed people from so many faith traditions. He was very tolerant and accepting and nonjudgmental. He really helped model for religion journalists how to behave, and journalists in general, about how to treat the growing diversity in our region.”

Weiss loved journalism. His wife, Marni, used to joke that he was married to journalism; she was just the mistress.

Jeffrey Weiss with his wife, Marni, at the Religion News Association annual conference on Sept. 9, 2017. RNS photo by Joe Schiska

A native of South Florida, Weiss attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and later transferred to the University of Miami, where he majored in journalism and philosophy. He started his career at the Miami Herald, where he worked for a decade covering the police beat and late-night shifts. He moved to The Dallas Morning News in 1988.

Never doctrinaire, Weiss doled out words of wisdom gingerly: “Damifino what the best advice should be,” he wrote. “But I can hope some of my suggestions may make some of the world a little bit better even when I’m gone.”

But in subtle ways his personal wisdom, gleaned from a wide range of sources — Jewish sages, Walker Percy, the Tao Te Ching, among others — shone through.

Weiss was no stranger to cancer. He had previous bouts with different forms of the disease and suffered from diabetes, too. The brain cancer diagnosis came as something less than a shock. He had been struggling to find words and thought he was getting old or needed a vacation, when one day he saw a tiny spot blocking his vision in his right eye. A trip to the ER revealed a tumor and surgery removed an egg-sized blob.

Always a good planner, he and Marni made some quick decisions. He would not hold out for every possible treatment — “Not all potential life is equally valuable to me,” he wrote. And he would donate his body to science.

“My decision is a bit in keeping with Jewish traditional teachings about what to do with bodies,” he wrote. “And some not in such keeping. Which, given my basic attitude as a Jewish agnostic, probably is consistent.”

In addition to chronicling his treatments and his ongoing thoughts about death for RNS, he also started a new vocation: mentoring. Once a week he visited the Morning News office to offer advice to young interns and beginning reporters. He called it “Thursdays with Jeffrey,” a takeoff on “Tuesdays With Morrie,” the best-selling account of a professor dying of ALS.

Typically, Weiss wore his “Cancer Sucks” baseball cap.

Those who worked beside him, such as Linda K. Wertheimer, who sat next to Weiss for several years at The Dallas Morning News, said he was always a mentor and not just late in life. His advice: Be bold.

“If you were lucky enough to sit by him or be a friend of his, you just learned so much from the deep conversations you would have,” she said.

Weiss deeply believed that his chosen career offered the possibility of providing not only useful information, but a way of making sense of the world.

As his cancer progressed, he felt more free to offer “meta” advice, not just fixes to stories. He urged interns not to fear failure in school and to take risks earlier rather than later.

And then, in another column, he summed up his moral philosophy this way: “What’s a morally good thing to do? Try to do it.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

12 Comments

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  • If only all human beings were so good. I will miss Jeff dearly. Thank you Yonat for your sweet obituary. I know it must have been hard to write.

  • Having only recently followed Mr. Weiss’s writings which have chronicled his journey to the Egress, I can fully sympathize with the tenor and the tone of this tribute to his life and work. Though I differed with him over the question of what lies on the other side, it would be churlish to recount those differences here. I can at least grieve for his loss, and the loss to his family, friends, and peers.

  • No, not necessarily “churlish”, Edward. Not in this venue, anyway. I submit that Weiss’s specific focus, which quietly, hopefully forced readers to reflect on those very “differences”, was among the good gifts Weiss gave his readers.

    Obviously I agree with your post, of course. A time to mourn, a time to be moved, and also to reflect. Weiss wrote from the heart. (And the one question that I asked, he gave me a clear reply.)

    But part of all the great positives, was that Weiss left all his readers with the 800-pound gorilla: The Egress itself, and the vital question of whether one is — or is not — prepared for this singular event.

    The Egress, is the one location in all the universe, where we really need to be sure about what comes next. No shrugs.

    No, I’m not mindlessly speculating about where Weiss is now. Instead, I suggest that Weiss’s gift, was to force US to think hard, (regardless of one’s own labels), about our own Egresses.

    A meditation: What if John 3:16, a very familiar-on-all-sides text about God’s love, is actually true?

  • Weiss z”l was the kind of guy who didn’t seem to mind good-faith efforts by those looking to genuinely share their beliefs. Nevertheless, as he has now left this earth, you have wisely decided not to go over your differences at this time.

  • I am sorry to hear of his passing. Prayers for his family and friends during this difficult time.

    I remember reading his columns here sharing his story about his end of life struggles. He also wrote about possibly choosing Physician Assisted Suicide but it appears he chose natural death. What a difficult choice.

  • Working for a Baptist news outlet, I encountered Jeff Weiss on several occasions. He was always fair and principled and genuinely interested in telling the story straight and without loaded language. My condolences to his wife, family and friends. He was an exemplar for the profession.

  • In not those words, but with those sentiments, I encouraged Mr. Weiss to consider that declaration. As he pointed out, it was naturally not unfamiliar to him. But to the best of my knowledge, it was not a matter of import from his perspective. This is where my grief is greatest, as the poet John Donne noted, “No man is an island…” While Mr. Weiss gave us cause to think about our own Egresses, he took less thought for his own. Of course, this is the very issue I planned to avoid, your reply made it difficult to retain my silence…but the lack of discipline is my own responsibility.

  • If Mr Weiss wanted his readers to connect with him in his RNS articles he certainly achieved his goal with me.

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