Kathy Hacker, 71, of Wynnewood, an endearing, talented, relentless, and wisecracking editor and writer at The Inquirer, died Tuesday, Jan. 12, of an aortic aneurysm at Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown.
Ms. Hacker began working at The Inquirer in 1982 as a features writer and later became an editor, working across multiple desks in the newsroom. She earned praise for her polished writing, exhaustive editing, and engaging personality. She was a mentor but also a stickler for clarity and form, and she treated every story as if it were the next day’s Page 1 centerpiece.
“Kathy Hacker was a master of her craft and one of the most talented editors I have ever seen,” said Inquirer editor Gabriel Escobar. “For her, every significant story was an uncut gem, and every facet she carved merited attention and polish.”
As an editor, Ms. Hacker’s dedication to her writers was invaluable. For those just starting out, needing to find their voices, she taught structure, discipline, and wit. For veterans, she burnished details and tweaked nuance that made good stories better. She had intriguing story ideas and an indefatigable work ethic. She cared.
“Kathy loved her writers, and they loved her,” said Cathy Rubin, assistant managing editor of features, where Ms. Hacker most recently worked. “She was fiercely loyal and protective of them.”
She could be tough. “She was inquisitive, and she didn’t suffer fools,” said her sister, Sue Fisher. Ms. Hacker liked to dissect stories and work with writers to rebuild them; some called her a “wrecking ball.” But she was adept at collaboration, and most writers walked away relieved because their stories were always better.
“She was demanding, and committed, and particular and honest,” two colleagues wrote in a note to the newsroom that was also posted on Facebook. “Her respect was prized and hard to earn.”
As a writer, Ms. Hacker wrote about people, home, and life. She profiled Shirley Chisholm, Helen Gurley Brown, Gloria Steinem, and Marge the manicurist. Her writing was crisp, dramatic, and fun to read. Meticulous about everything, she recorded interviews so as not to miss a word that could make or break a point she was making.
“Did you ever eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had been lying in a lunch box for six hours?” she wrote in a 1982 article about school lunches that mothers pack for their kids. “You know, the kind where the jelly was oozing through the bread and all that purple glop ended up on your fingers? Ooooo, scuzzy!”
In a 1985 story about a couple caught in the middle of a hostage drama, she wrote: “Death waits in unlikely places. Stanley Kubacki knew that. Yet never could he have imagined that he would meet it there — on a fiery-hot steel deck at the prow of the Achille Lauro, with two uncapped 25-liter cans of benzene at his back and Kalashnikov automatic rifles trained on him from the bridge above.”
Ms. Hacker was born Dec. 14, 1949, and grew up in Ephrata, Lancaster County. Her sister, whom Ms. Hacker called Suzy, was four years younger, and Ms. Hacker treated her like the little sister she was.
When their mother dressed young Suzy in a bulky snowsuit, Ms. Hacker toppled her over into a drift. When they gathered bugs for their backyard experiments, Ms. Hacker was always the scientist; Suzy was the assistant. In a sign of things to come, when the sisters painted by the numbers, Ms. Hacker ignored the lines and painted wherever she wanted. “She challenged everything,” Fisher said.
They grew up with loving and involved parents and grandparents in the same house. As adults, the sisters talked by phone every morning, noon, and night, and reunited often back in Ephrata.
“She was my best friend,” Fisher said.
Ms. Hacker was the 1967 valedictorian at Ephrata High School, and she made her sister listen to her graduation speech so many times that Fisher can still recall the first few lines. Of course, she wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook. She also wrote Fisher a personal letter of life advice from college.
She earned a degree in English at Bucknell University, landed a writing internship at the Philadelphia Bulletin and spent the next half century as a journalist. She worked at the Bucks County Courier Times, and the Bulletin until it folded in 1982.
It was at the Bulletin where Ms. Hacker met photographer Jack Tinney. They were married for more than 40 years until he died in 2018. They liked to walk the shore lines at Cape Cod in the summer and stretch out on Caribbean beaches.
“They blended,” Fisher said.
Ms. Hacker loved science and her garden. She played the piano, read a lot, made holiday wreaths, and hand-painted Christmas ornaments. Her love and care for her cats was legendary, and she had at least one ever since she and her sister talked their father into keeping a stray when they were kids. If she discovered you liked chocolate cake or maple sugar cubes, or almost anything, you could expect it on your desk the next day.
Ms. Hacker suffered a heart attack several years ago and battled cancer last year. But she rarely seemed down. “She’s always been strong. She took adversity head-on,” Fisher said.
She helped others to be strong, too, from broken marriages to bad bosses.
“She was grit, grace, and generosity packaged in a tiny, talented, loving frame,” said Diane Mastrull, who was edited by Ms. Hacker for nearly 10 years and a close friend for 10 more.
In addition to her sister, Ms. Hacker is survived by stepdaughters Sandy Dolan and Donna Rawling, stepson Michael Tinney, four granddaughters, and other relatives. No service is scheduled.