Former San Jose Mercury News crime and obituary writer Leonard Neft would no doubt have approved of the account of his life put together by investigative reporter Karen de Sá and enterprise reporter Julia Prodis Sulek. The article ranges wide to capture the full span of Neft’s personal and professional accomplishments.
Missing since last weekend, Neft, 69, was pegged Thursday by authorities as the third victim of the Valley Fire in Northern California. Neft’s brother David also lost his house in the fire, but survived. From the article:
At the Mercury News, staffers are both covering the fire and remembering one of its victims. They recalled fondly their oddball but lovable former colleague who connected deeply with families in mourning as he performed one of a journalist’s toughest jobs – calling relatives to get quotes for an obituary…
A well-sourced reporter who worked at the paper from 1969 to 1985, Neft earned the rare distinction as a staff writer who refused to attach his byline to stories – something that would be unheard of today. The insistence appears to be a mix of humility and a gotcha to editors he is said to have had gripes with. He was also a non-conformist with long hair who faced off regularly, and congenially, with buttoned-up buzz-cut law enforcement types, colleagues recalled.
The piece includes some fond memories from Bay Area News Group managing editor Bert Robinson, who was a cub reporter back in the days when Neft worked the obituary beat. After leaving the Mercury News, Neft worked at the Lake County Record-Bee until 1995. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters. RIP.