Rob Hiaasen's newspaper columns were funny — actually, honest-to-god funny. In 2015, he noted his daughter had adopted a South Florida manatee named Squeaky as a gift for him; Hiaasen then spent part of a newspaper column wondering what advice to give his newly adopted sea-cow son. He decided on "Be safe."
Much like his brother — longtime Miami Herald writer and best-selling novelist Carl Hiaasen — Rob Hiaasen clearly loved poking fun at life's absurdities. While Carl's columns tended to cover the darkly twisted world of South Florida politics, Rob used his column inches to make people laugh.
His wry, joyful outlook on life is being remembered in newsrooms across the nation this evening as America grapples with its latest mass shooting. This afternoon, a man stormed into Hiaasen's newsroom at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five people, including Hiaasen, whom the Herald reports
Hiaasen had deep roots in South Florida's journalism world: He's the uncle of former Herald reporter Scott Hiaasen and uncle-in-law of Herald environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich. According to the Herald's touching obituary published earlier tonight, Hiaasen grew up with his brother near Fort Lauderdale and worked for the Palm Beach Post in the '90s before moving on to the Baltimore Sun and eventually the Gazette.
"He loved the mission of journalism and he loved the idea of working at a paper like the Gazette, doing hometown news, which is the core and the heart of our business," Carl Hiaasen told the Herald tonight. "He was a remarkable brother and a remarkable man." The Herald's editorial board director, Nancy Ancrum, referred to Rob Hiaasen as "family."
Since the news broke, tributes have poured in from across the journalism world:
Just two days ago, Paul W. Gillespie, a staff photographer at the Capital Gazette, tweeted he'd received a late-evening call from Hiaasen, which the veteran photographer assumed meant Hiaasen was about to send him out on yet another assignment. It turns out Hiaasen was asking what sort of election-night pizza he wanted.
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"Awesome move in my book," Gillespie wrote two days ago.
That was Gillespie's last tweet before alleged shooter Jarrod Ramos stormed into the building with a shotgun today. Authorities have not yet reported what sparked the attack, but the alleged shooter had spent years threatening Gazette journalists online after the newspaper wrote about his conviction for criminal harassment. Ramos sued the newspaper for defamation, but the case was dismissed in 2013 when a judge ruled the paper's story was accurate.
"Rob was very special, a dear friend and a fine journalist with a beautiful family," former Herald political reporter Beth Reinhard tweeted after news of Hiaasen's death broke late this evening. "Generous and funny and smart. Interested and interesting. So many current/former Florida and Maryland journalists are heartbroken tonight. Read everything he ever wrote."