Frederick Leo Cusick, 65, beloved husband of Lauren McCartney Cusick, and the doting father of Julia Cusick, Marie Yearick and Katharine Cusick, died Aug. 1 from complications of colon cancer.
For 26 years, until 2005, he was a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, covering politics in Harrisburg and general assignment news and features in the Philadelphia region. In 1980, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting with a team from The Inquirer that covered the Three Mile Island disaster.
In an article earlier this week, The Philadelphia Inquirer called him an “unrelenting investigative reporter”… “a skilled reporter and facile writer, covered all kinds of stories–crime, city and suburban news, and government developments from Harrisburg.”
He was one of the first reporters to call attention to the illegal activities of former State Attorney General Ernie Preate, who ran for governor in 1994, but who went to jail a year later after pleading guilty to mail fraud charges.
“Fred’s commitment to public-service journalism was strong and unrelenting. He had no tolerance for phonies and self-aggrandizing public officials whose public pronouncements belied their private, self-interested actions,” Inquirer editor William K. Marimow told the paper. “But despite the hard edge of his work, he was a warm, expansive, and generous colleague, who cared deeply about his fellow reporters and his friends. Even after leaving The Inquirer, Fred would frequently offer story ideas to me and others here in the newsroom,” Marimow said.
It was a politician he liked, former state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, who put Fred in the middle of one of the biggest moments of recent Pennsylvania politics. When Dwyer suddenly drew a handgun during a January 1987, news conference in Harrisburg, “Fred’s was one of the loudest voices that could be heard yelling, ‘Budd! Budd! No, no! Don’t,” recalled an Inquirer colleague.
Although Fred’s reporting and that of others helped air the allegations that led to Dwyer’s conviction, Fred never blamed the press or himself for Dwyer’s public suicide. “You can’t let [the suicide] dissuade you from doing your job,” he told the American Journalism Review.
“Fred was one of the most learned–and smartest–reporters I’ve known,” The Inquirer’s night city editor Francisco Delgado told the paper. “He applied both to the job. He would figure out the essence of a story very quickly and proceed from there. Also, he was one of the most well-read people I’ve ever known. “When things were slow, he would take out a dense book on the Permian extinction or the British admiralty before and after World War I and plow through it. Then he would sum up the book in a few words.”
Gene Roberts, Inquirer editor from 1972 to 1990, under whose leadership the newspaper won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, remembered Fred in an article in the Philadelphia Daily News. “He was a very good, excellent reporter,” said Roberts who went on to become managing editor of The New York Times, “He was very dedicated to journalism.”
Martha Woodall, The Inquirer’s education writer, first met Fred more than 40 years ago when they were both reporters at The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA. “He was larger than life,” Woodall told the Daily News. “He was absolutely brilliant and tenacious. Some people were put off by his sarcasm, but he was really a warm, loving person, and a family man through and through. He kept up with his friends. If there was an emergency, he would be the first there.”
It was at the Gazette that Fred also met Lauren McCartney, another young reporter who would become his wife, and a lifelong friend, Jonathan Neumann, who became a multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Inquirer.
Neumann said of Fred in the Daily News, “I think of him as the perfect reporter. He was so knowledgeable. He seemed to know everything. There was no question a lot of people saw Fred as a big, nasty bear. But he was really a teddy bear. He had such a big heart.”
Fred’s friend and former colleague, Connie Langland, agreed in The Inquirer. “He was just this big bear of a guy who could be intimidating, but who was really a sweetheart. He was passionate about investigative journalism with sky-high standards. He was fiercely loyal to his friends, and was totally supportive and proud when their journalism made Page One,” Langland said
Fred grew up in Newton, Massachusetts before moving to Cape Cod as a teenager. He graduated from Barnstable High School in 1968. At Bowdoin College he majored in history, competed on the debate team and served as editor of the student paper, The Bowdoin Orient, before graduating in 1972.
After his retirement, Fred continued to stay active in journalism by mentoring his daughter, known professionally as Marie Cusick, a reporter with WITF. She found herself covering some of the same people and places that her father had more than 20 years earlier.
When she won a national Edward R. Murrow reporting prize last year, Fred was too sick to attend the award ceremony in New York, but Marie, grateful for all his journalistic advice, brought the award to him the next day and left it with him for months. Last Friday, the day before Fred died, Marie left his bedside to deliver the family’s first grandchild. Everett Abraham Yearick arrived the day after his grandfather passed away.
Above all, Fred was an extremely loving and deeply loved husband, father, son and brother. His quick wit delighted his family and his encyclopedic recall of history and politics never ceased to amaze them. He could defuse any tense moment with a joke. The harshest punishment he could ever bring himself to give his daughters was to threaten, “OK, you’re out of the will! You won’t inherit any of my naval history books,” a promise that always induced a series of eye rolls. In addition to his wife, daughters and grandson, he is survived by his mother, Barbara Cusick, and sisters, Martha and Sarah Cusick, all of Barnstable, MA; and Mary Cusick of Brookline, MA; son-in-law, Elijah Yearick of Lancaster; and many aunts, an uncle, cousins and friends. He was preceded in death by his father, Frederick M. Cusick, the legendary sportscaster for the Boston Bruins.
Friends are invited to a memorial service on Saturday, Aug. 8, at 1 p.m. in Dietz Hall Refectory at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Burial will be private at the convenience of the family.