Frederick L. Cusick, 65, of Lancaster, a longtime reporter and writer for The Inquirer, died Saturday of complications from colon cancer at the Bob Fryer and Family Inpatient Center in Mount Joy, Pa. He had been battling the illness for a year.
Mr. Cusick's distinguished Inquirer career began in 1979 and stretched until 2005, when he and 70 other veterans took a buyout and left the newsroom as part of an austerity move.
During those 26 years, Mr. Cusick, a skilled reporter and facile writer, covered all kinds of stories - crime, city and suburban news, and government developments from Harrisburg.
Mr. Cusick was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for the newspaper's coverage of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg.
He also wrote human-interest stories and did investigative reporting, the latter fueled by his razor-sharp intellect and the underlying vein of mistrust with which Mr. Cusick viewed much of life.
"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," said Inquirer editor William K. Marimow.
"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.
Colleague Rich Henson, who left the paper in 2000, said Mr. Cusick "openly challenged the world around him, and that included his bosses and his colleagues, and, of course, the politicians he covered."
"The more you were around Fred, the more you saw that his brashness was really him pushing to make you smarter and more insightful, and challenging you to question what it is you thought you knew. Journalism can never have enough of that," Henson said.
Mr. Cusick tempered his skepticism with genuine enjoyment of the politically powerful figures he covered. He kept in regular contact with them, Henson said: "He had an enormous heart and a respect for life."
When a politician he liked - R. Budd Dwyer, 47, the state treasurer convicted of arranging a kickback in return for awarding a state computer contract - suddenly drew a handgun during a Jan. 22, 1987, news conference in Harrisburg, "Fred's was one of the loudest voices that could be heard yelling, 'Budd! Budd! No, no! Don't,' " Henson said.
Despite the horror of Dwyer's public suicide, Mr. Cusick reacted like a battle-hardened veteran. He reported and wrote the story, then followed up later with a longer Sunday magazine piece.
"The thing that bothered me the most was how little I was bothered by it," Mr. Cusick told the American Journalism Review in 2000. "It was like covering a car wreck. Most of us just get over it and acquire a certain distance from it. Part of it is sort of a macho, tough reporter thing."
But Mr. Cusick, who was sitting in the front row when Dwyer pulled the gun from an envelope and told reporters to stay back, had one lingering regret: "I should have run and grabbed him when he pulled out the envelope," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I knew that was it."
Although Mr. Cusick's reporting and that of others helped air the allegations that led to Dwyer's conviction, Mr. Cusick never blamed the press or himself for Dwyer's downfall. "You can't let [the suicide] dissuade you from doing your job," he told the American Journalism Review.
In the aftermath of Dwyer's death, Mr. Cusick doubted that Harrisburg had changed. "There was a slight twinge of fear" among politicians when he died, Cusick told editor Fred Mann, as the two worked together on the Sunday magazine story. "But the fear was fleeting."
Soon afterward, Mr. Cusick told Mann, "you can see the fins breaking the water. You see the feeding frenzies" when it comes to payoffs and bribes.
"What are the chances of getting struck by lightning?" Mr. Cusick asked rhetorically. "It's about the same as being successfully prosecuted for public corruption in Harrisburg."
Back in Philadelphia, Mr. Cusick worked the night rewrite job at 400 N. Broad St. when Francisco Delgado was The Inquirer's night city editor. Mr. Cusick hated the assignment, but over time, "he came around, and I was able to rely on him," said Delgado, now an assistant city editor.
"Fred was one of the most learned - and smartest - reporters I've known," Delgado recalled. "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.
"He once gave me Annals of the Former World by John McPhee - nearly 700 pages of dense reading on geology - because he said it was a 'fun read.' I made my way through most of it. It wasn't that much fun.
"I think he was having fun at my expense."
Longtime colleague Connie Langland, who left the newspaper in 2005, said Mr. Cusick's life centered on family, his small dogs, his friends, and books.
"Fred doted on [his wife] Laurie and their daughters, and his life is ending at the very time his first grandchild is being born.
"He stayed optimistic despite setback after setback to be there for all those women in his life - including his mom and his sisters and his bevy of older women pals - and this new baby.
"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.
Martha Woodall, an Inquirer reporter whose friendship with Cusick went back 42 years, to the newsroom of the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass., said some were put off by his caustic wit and biting sarcasm.
"Those of us who were lucky enough to be among his friends knew he was warm, caring, and supportive, and could be counted on for help in an emergency," Woodall said.
Mr. Cusick made friends for life, kept in touch, and often made presents of his favorite books and movies.
"Thanks to Fred, I have a copy of John le Carre's first novel, Call for the Dead, Laurence Olivier in Richard III, the original BBC version of House of Cards, and several comic thrillers by Carl Hiaasen," Woodall said.
The Cusicks specialized in journalism. A daughter, Marie Cusick, is a familiar voice on public radio, as StateImpact Pennsylvania's Harrisburg reporter at WITF.
She was also expecting Mr. Cusick's first grandchild. Everett Abraham Yearick was born Sunday afternoon in Lancaster.
Mr. Cusick's father was the play-by-play announcer for Boston Bruins hockey games for 40 years. Remembered for the trademark call "Score! Bobby Orr!" the elder Fred Cusick died in 2009 at age 90.
Mr. Cusick grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1972 and was the editor of the college newspaper.
Besides his daughter Marie, he is survived by his wife of 37 years, Lauren M. Cusick; his mother, Barbara; daughters Julia and Katharine; and sisters Martha, Mary, and Sarah.
Services arrangements were pending.