WASHINGTON (AP) — Randy Schmid, a retired Associated Press science writer who rarely missed an opportunity to add a whimsical touch to his authoritative stories, has died.
Schmid, 78, died Sunday at a nursing home in Falls Church, Virginia, said Mike Bobal, whose late wife was Schmid’s cousin. Nursing home workers said he watched TV the night before and joked with staff.
His AP colleagues remembered Schmid — his name was Randolph E. Schmid — as a skilled reporter who found a simple way to present complicated issues.
“A hallmark of a Schmid story is lightness, brevity, a play on words when possible, and above all speed,” wrote Seth Borenstein, another AP science writer, of Schmid’s retirement in 2011. “A Smithsonian PR official said his competitors used to complain that he must have gotten tips about stories or press conferences. He does not have.”
A former boss in Washington noticed Schmid’s playful use of language.
“Randy was a dedicated science writer, but he never missed an opportunity to try to fit a pun into a headline or story. He was a classic AP journalist through and through,” said Sandy K. Johnson, who was the AP’s Washington bureau chief from 1998 to 2008.
One of his recent AP stories showed Schmid’s light approach.
“They may not be Sonny and Cher, but certain South American birds sing duets and take turns as the melody progresses,” the story began.
“Colleagues who stayed on the trail often asked Randy for help, so much so that we often hired him to ghostwrite. It was a phrase he hated but a role he cherished,” said Carole Feldman, Washington news editor.
Bob Furlow, an AP editor, described Schmid as “a solid reporter while still being a stickler for the offbeat. He could find nuggets that others had missed in a Census Bureau or other government report that turned to gold on his keyboard.”
Furlow added: “We’re going to give him a special shoutout for Daylight Saving Time on Sunday – one of his favorite subjects to weave a few hundred fun words around the bi-annual reminders.”
Schmid, of West Carthage, New York, started at AP in 1968 as a news anchor in the Albany bureau and was a correspondent in Memphis from 1969 to 1973, where he regularly had to quash rumors that Elvis Presley had died, Mike Bobal said.
He joined the AP’s Washington office in 1973 and worked his way up from journalist to science writer, earning a master’s degree in meteorology.
“He loved working for the AP,” Bobal said. “He enjoyed making things clear to the public, whether it was the weather or climate change.”
Schmid loved traveling with his wife Marcia, who died in 2004. Bobal said Schmid “was never quite the same after that,” but remained close to Bobal’s family and remained gregarious and a voracious reader.
“Randy was delighted to find just the right piece of pop culture to make science news fun and accessible,” said Lauran Neergaard, medical writer at AP. “Transformation optics? For Randy, it was like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Bacteria in shower heads? He called it the scariest shower message since Psycho. He was always friendly – and the king of puns.
“Even after his retirement, Randy would email new science humor a few times a month when he was hanging out with friends and colleagues,” Neergaard said. “And when Randy moved into the nursing home, he had a photo collage that AP presented when he retired — pictures of some of his favorite stories — hung right in front of his bed, ready to commemorate with visitors.”
And many of those stories were unforgettable.
“Many of the most interesting, entertaining, and important science stories that people have read in the last generation,” Borenstein said, “come from Randy Schmid.”