The first time I spoke to Anthony Shadid in person, he apologized for getting shot.
I had nominated Anthony for the journalism school’s Nafziger Award after following his move from the Associated Press to the Boston Globe and reading his first book, Legacy of the Prophet. Shortly before he was scheduled to come to campus to accept it, he was wounded while on assignment in Ramallah.
When he arrived in Madison, arm in a sling, I asked him if the pain was manageable. He waved off the question and instead said, “I must have really worried you. I’m so sorry.”
Here he was, acclaimed foreign reporter, shot on assignment, winning an award, and he was concerned about me?
That was the first of many, many moments that defined Anthony’s humility in my eyes. He had admirable talents, undoubtedly. But I always felt the thoughtful interviewing, the lyrical writing, the creative angles and the acute insights all sprang from that same well of humility.
Journalism can breed ego. Hardened by seeing difficult things and softened by the conceit of bylines, we can come to see ourselves as something better or bigger than we are. But Anthony never allowed a chasm to grow between his work and his humanity. He never saw himself as larger than anyone or anything.
That humble approach applied well beyond his work. I saw it in his pride and affection for his family, his dedication to his alma mater and his awe for his beloved Green Bay Packers.
He brought it to our friendship, as well. Starting with that nomination back in 2001, I slipped into a habit of signing all my messages to him, “As always, stay safe.” I didn’t notice it, but Anthony did. He pointed it out and said he appreciated my “motherly nature.” It was a theme he would return to often when we interacted. Through a smattering of emails between Madison and the Palestinian territories, he’d taken a small note and teased out a larger meaning.
He once wrote, “The best journalism is sometimes about footnotes, when we write small to say something big.”
I do not have his gift of words, but I believe it’s not just the best journalism that makes this move from observation to meaning. It’s also the best humanity.
Anthony Shadid was a remarkable journalist. But he was an even better man.