SANFORD ZALBURG / 1917-2008
Journalist had ‘passion, fire, fervor’ for the truth
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Author and newsman Sanford "Sandy" Zalburg, whose zest for truth helped mold a generation of reporters in Hawaii, will be buried Monday in a plain pine coffin at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.
Zalburg died of pneumonia Saturday at age 90 in Petaluma, Calif., with his daughter, Noni Garner of San Rafael, by his side. She had brought him home with her in December because of his failing health.
"Nobody in my mind ever equaled him for passion, fire, fervor, integrity and utter dedication to the truth -- not just the facts, but the deeper human reality underlying everything," said writer Laurel Murphy, of Pukalani, Maui.
Murphy was one of a cadre of cub reporters schooled by Zalburg while he was city editor of the Honolulu Advertiser from 1959 to 1972, and still sought his advice as late as last year on a book she is writing. Zalburg's own book, "A Spark Is Struck," was republished in November by Watermark Publishing, bringing his tale of labor leader Jack Hall to a new generation.
"Sandy cared about the little guy," Murphy said. "His own great suffering gave him tremendous compassion for others."
Zalburg was born in New York City on Dec. 24, 1917, and his father died six months later. He grew up poor, always feeling like a burden on his mother, a seamstress, Garner said. He struggled to put himself through the University of Missouri and graduated in 1939, too broke to pay $5 for his diploma.
"He took his best set of clothes, which happened to be his ROTC uniform, sword hanging by his side, and stuck out his thumb and tried to find a job," Garner said. It was a tough road. Zalburg crisscrossed the country, taking odd jobs, and even wrote for free for a New Orleans newspaper -- to no avail.
Eventually he found a reporting job in Alabama, but then joined the Canadian Army because he felt Hitler had to be stopped, and his own nation had not yet joined the war. Zalburg later landed with U.S. forces on the beach at Normandy on D-Day and earned a Bronze Star.
He again had trouble finding work after his discharge, and ended up putting out a railroad newspaper in Alaska.
"Everywhere he went, he ran into anti-Semitism," his daughter said. But when he moved to Hawaii in 1950, he found a refuge from that. In the islands, he was happy to say, he was "just another damn haole."
Zalburg started out as a file clerk at the Advertiser but soon moved up to reporter, where he inspired others with his sheer energy, driving curiosity and skill as a wordsmith. As city editor he kept his reporters hopping and brooked no nonsense. Once, when he found a story sadly wanting, he simply tossed it out the window.
"He had a personality to match his voice, which could be heard from one side of the city room to the other, and he didn't hesitate to use it," said former Advertiser editor Gerry Keir, who trained under Zalburg. "It was always because he cared about the quality of what was going into the paper."
An avid reader and music buff, Zalburg retired in 1980 and traveled widely. He will be buried in the Orthodox Jewish tradition at 11 a.m. Monday, with arrangements by Williams Funeral Services. The family requests no flowers but welcomes donations to charity in his name.
"In this day and age when newspapers are failing and it's a dying art," Murphy said, "Sandy stands as a beacon of what the written word can do to inform and interest and motivate people."