Weeks after retirement, longtime Miami Herald Editorial Page Editor Nancy Ancrum dies at 67
Miami Herald Editorial Page Editor Nancy Ancrum, who kept a watchful eye on Florida governors and South Florida leaders, gave voice to those who had been silenced and guided her team to two Pulitzer Prizes, died Friday after a long illness. She was 67.
Community leaders and colleagues on Saturday reflected on a Miami without Ancrum, a woman who stitched together varying voices in search of our community’s moral center.
The people’s forum
Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, said he cherishes the welcoming embrace Ancrum, also a native New Yorker, gave him when he took charge of PAMM in 2015.
“She truly believed that people’s opinions counted and that people needed to be heard and that there could be an open dialogue and conversation between people who might disagree but at least could respect each other enough through words,” Sirmans said. “Now, more than ever, we think about being able to have difficult conversations and she was somebody who led that charge for a decade that she was head of editorials. It’s incredible. What a legacy.”
Life after retirement
Ancrum on Dec. 31 retired, she said, “from the best job I ever had.” She’d led the Herald’s editorial board — the community voice of the newspaper — for 10 years. It was the capstone of a newspaper career dating back to her young 20s.
An upbeat retirement party with her colleagues was held in mid-January in the community she had championed since arriving from Washington after starting her career with the Baltimore Evening Sun and USA Today.
Ancrum vowed to stay plugged in to the community and had said she looked forward to her new role as an “engaged citizen” with her husband, George Fishman, a retired mosaic artist and arts writer.
About three weeks after her friends and colleagues saluted Ancrum on her new beginnings, the highly-respected journalist died in her sleep on Friday at the Miami Shores home she shared with Fishman.
Ancrum for some time had battled multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in the white blood cells. The cancerous plasma builds up in the marrow. She had gone into remission for 12 years, Fishman said. The cancer returned.
“It’s just a shocking, devastating loss to our community and to society,” said Michael Putney, former WPLG senior political reporter and retired host of “This Week in South Florida.” Ancrum was a frequent guest on the ABC program. “She was such a spectacular, principled person.”
Ancrum guided her team, including then-Deputy Editorial Page Editor Amy Driscoll, now the Miami Herald’s Opinion Editor, to a May 2023 Pulitzer Prize for the Miami Herald’s “Broken Promises,” five-part series that focused on politicians and developers vowing, but failing, to build parks, revive historic neighborhoods and boost transportation.
“I had the great pleasure to work with Nancy over the years as she studied and gave voice to significant community concerns,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Herald Saturday. “Her humanity and deep care came through in all her editorials and in how she spoke at public events. She made a mark through her steadfast integrity and expectation that others would meet the same high bar. I was so sad when she stepped down, and now devastated to lose her leadership for our community.”
The cruel timing of Ancrum’s loss, so soon after retiring, was not lost on one of her former scribes, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., the Miami Herald’s 2004 Pulitzer winner for commentary. Ancrum was Pitts’ editor before he retired from the Herald in the fall of 2022, about a year before Ancrum stepped down.
“It’s really sad to me because you think of retirement as sort of the dessert after the dinner,” Pitts said. “It just is really kind of so unfair that she gets, what, two months of retirement? I am shocked. Heartbroken.
“I had so many editors at the Herald but she was one of the top tier editors and really instrumental in helping keep me in line. Every time I was ready to go off the deep end she’d gently reel me back in, which was not just a service to my journalism but frankly to my mental health. There was an elegance about her.”
Ancrum, a New York University graduate, recently chuckled when she recalled the journey that brought her from her first reporting and editing jobs in Washington to Miami for the job interview that ushered her into the Miami Herald’s former mustard-colored building by the bay more than 40 years ago in the early-1980s.
“My cab driver said, ‘You mind if I make a stop?’ and I was like, ‘No, I guess I don’t mind.’ And he went into a gun shop and bought a gun. And I was like, ‘Well, this is so different!’ Because gun shops weren’t all that apparent in New York or in Washington, DC, where I had been living. And I thought ‘Wow, the rules really are different here.’”
For the next 40 years, Ancrum documented her adopted city in the pages of the Herald as a young reporter, editor and right up through her last position as the editorial department’s leader who guided her colleagues to two Pulitzers.
Myriam Márquez, the former Herald editorial page editor who preceded Ancrum, said the two clicked immediately.
“Not only did she know Miami with all its warts, but her knowledge of Black Miami’s history and all the waves of immigration was instrumental in our board’s discussions about the future of South Florida. And that voice! She had the best broadcast voice — knowledgeable without being pedantic or in your face. She was a jewel, and a great friend. I cannot process this. My thoughts are with her wonderful husband George and her extended family,” Márquez said.
Ancrum led the Herald podcast “Woke Wars,” and “Speaking of Miami,” a livestream interview initiative that gave voice to a broad range of community members, from elected officials to artists to victims of violence.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been proud of — that you don’t have to have a title after your name to appear on our pages,” Ancrum told the Herald just ahead of her retirement.
She was sometimes a critic of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and made sure to give space to differing viewpoints through two opinion newsletters she started — Miami Debate and Right to the Point, the Herald’s newsletter of conservative voices.
For the last decade of her professional life, she ensured the editorial department never lost sight of community neighbors like Cuba and Haiti and vetted and endorsed local political candidates. She wanted to help guide and propel voters to the polls during election periods.
“Nancy Ancrum’s legacy shines brightly, illuminating the lives of those she touched with her dedication to journalism and unwavering commitment to truth. Her fearless reporting and compassionate storytelling enriched our community, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of many. Through her profound impact, Nancy’s spirit will continue to inspire and uplift, forever cherished and remembered,” said Alex Mena, executive editor of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.
Colleagues celebrate the collegial and warm environment Ancrum brought to the newsroom behind the scenes and out in the community.
“Some people come into our lives who are irreplaceable and I count Nancy among them,” said Monica Richardson, vice president of news for the Heralds’ parent company, McClatchy.
“Nancy cared deeply for her work, her purpose and for this community. She aspired to make a difference and have impact and she did just that. She was a well respected Black female leader in our industry who broke barriers and opened doors for others in this profession. We are devastated by this loss but I can say without a doubt that the Miami community is better because of Nancy. Journalism is better because of Nancy. I am a better leader and journalist because of Nancy.”
Kitty Dumas, an executive with the Ryder Charitable Foundation and a former reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, called her best friend “the best at everything that matters. Yes she was a skillful and insightful editor and leader who spoke truth to power. But she also gave her friends the gift of her endless capacity for goodness, a place of refuge, and the most beautiful dinner parties. Some years ago when she was ill, she knitted special gifts for people she loved. With her beloved husband George she created a butterfly garden. Most importantly to me, Nancy was my best friend.”
And Driscoll, who now leads the Herald’s editorial board, loved the energy Ancrum brought at daily meetings.
“There was laughter and disagreement and strongly held opinions. We got loud and we argued. But we also forged strong bonds. We were a close-knit team, and that was due to Nancy and her leadership.”
Former Miami Herald Editorial Board Editor Nancy Ancrum is shown in a photograph taken on April 16, 1999. Chuck Fadely Miami Herald file photo
But for all of Ancrum’s admirers, none were closer than her husband George Fishman, her sole survivor.
“Nancy always preferred editing to writing and totally blossomed in her role as head of the editorial board,” he told the Herald Saturday. “The shouting and laughter that accompanied the serious business of crafting those opinion pieces was her greatest joy, which she already missed after retirement. I referred to the board as Nancy and the angels.”
Luisa Yanez, a member of the editorial board who worked with Ancrum for 10 years, said Ancrum “loved her husband George, her dog, Lila, Art Week and ‘Law & Order.’ She collected two things: fashionable earrings and women friends, who she adored and who adored her back.”
Fellow longtime Miami Herald editor Joan Chrissos shared a conversation she’d had with Ancrum decades ago — and again just weeks ago.
“We grew up at the Herald together as young women journalists from New York,” Chrissos said. “In fact, she and I recently reminisced how we had lunch together to go over wedding planning as I had gotten married a year before she and George did. And true to form, Nancy remembered all the details of our lunch — more than 30 years later!”
Services have not been planned yet. But there is one wish Ancrum would have had, her husband says. “She would urge planting lots of flowers, especially milkweed, and other butterfly host plants.
“When I saw two big ugly giant swallowtail caterpillars feeding on a plant in the yard, I felt a big swell of relief, because we hadn’t seen any in many years,” Fishman said. “And then, when one of the giant swallowtail butterflies fluttered overhead, I knew Nancy was free and happy.”