Linda Kriger, 69, a respected journalist, author, and teacher of Jewish ethics, died Friday, May 29, at her West Mount Airy home of complications from earlier brain surgery.
A native of Bridgeport, Conn., she spent four years as a reporter at the Providence Journal before joining The Inquirer staff in 1976. Over an 11-year career in Philadelphia, she wrote under the byline Linda Herskowitz, her maiden name.
She was best known for medical writing that was compelling and useful. Her reports ranged from a treatise on the lowly bunion to announcements in The Inquirer’s pages about medical advances on the same day they surfaced in prestigious medical journals.
“An estimated 2.4 million people in the United States have bunions but do nothing about them, apparently believing – to paraphrase the philosopher Descartes – `I have feet, therefore they hurt,’ ” she wrote in 1984. “It does not have to be so.”
Mrs. Kriger stayed ahead of the curve. In 1986, she reported that nuclear magnetic resonance – a then-new diagnostic technique that measured cell metabolism – was expected to become a mass screening tool for finding early cancers that escaped physical examination or X-rays.
At about the same time, she wrote about the growing acceptance of assisted suicide before it became a mainstream issue, said former Inquirer editor Dotty Brown.
“The debate at the time was over whether a patient or their family member could request that a feeding tube be removed, in essence hastening death,” Brown said. “With some hospitals and nursing homes refusing to do so, the courts were just beginning to allow this controversial decision.”
Mrs. Kriger was educated in the public schools and a 1971 graduate of the Connecticut College for Women. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1972 and was awarded a 1985 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University to study health issues.
Mrs. Kriger hadn’t always wanted to be a medical writer. She was a concert pianist at 14 and majored in piano at college. “She wanted to do both but ended up going the path of journalism,” said son Ezra Solway.
Part of the impetus for covering medicine was her struggle with ulcerative colitis. She suffered in silence for years before undergoing surgery to remove her colon.
“That really gave her a new lease on life,” her son said. In 2015, wanting to help others facing awkward discussions of colon problems, she self-published Gut Feelings: Social and Emotional Struggles With Crohn’s & Colitis.
“It’s a candid examination of debilitating Crohn’s and colitis, and just like Linda, it ends up being hopeful – a plea to be your best self,” said former Inquirer staffer Howard Shapiro.
Part of Mrs. Kriger’s success was because she was as interested in the people behind the story as the narrative itself, Shapiro said: “How did they come to be involved? What were they thinking? What experiences shaped them to reach this point? She had a consuming interest in what makes a person tick.”
Two years after leaving The Inquirer in 1987, Mrs. Kriger started a theater production company, Daughters Production. The nonprofit based in Philadelphia staged plays for and about women.
“She had a sort of cult hit with a show called Mamma Drama that played upstairs at the Walnut Street Theatre," Shapiro said. "It was a series of vignettes, mostly about mothers and daughters, and got an audience because it was funny, and people identified with it.”
She was married to Kenneth Solway. They had two sons before divorcing. In 2002, she married Jake Kriger, and formed a blended family with his three children. “They had the most incredible, loving marriage,” son Ezra said.
Later, she studied Mussar, a spiritual and ethics guide in Judaism based on the idea that by cultivating inner virtues, the students improve themselves. She taught Mussar for five years from home or through the Center for Contemporary Mussar in Philadelphia.
Besides her husband, ex-husband, and son Ezra, she is survived by a son, Daniel; stepchildren Rachel, Jeremy, and Mirah Kriger; and seven step-grandchildren.