Virginia AP reporter Steve Szkotak dies at age 65

AP News
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Posted: May 31, 2016 6:25 PM
Virginia AP reporter Steve Szkotak dies at age 65

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Steve Szkotak, a versatile and prolific AP journalist who covered the environment and a host of other issues, died Tuesday. He was 65.

Mandy Szkotak said her husband died of cancer at home with family members at his side.

Szkotak worked as an editor and reporter at the AP bureau in Richmond for 14 years, eloquently putting a human face on stories about watermen, Civil War buffs, criminals and crime victims, public figures and all manner of regular folks.

"Steve was a gifted storyteller who elevated the level of journalism here in Virginia," said Steve McMillan, the AP's news editor for the Richmond bureau. "He had a real knack for narrative writing, meticulously researching a topic, crafting the story structure and turning the right phrase to keep readers engaged and get them informed."

An example of Szkotak's evocative writing style from a story a year ago about all-female Sweet Briar College:

"Twenty-one buildings on the 3,250-acre campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Days before Saturday's planned commencement, seniors astride horses rode through a quad worthy of a putting green.

"This campus on the eastern slope of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains is called the 'pink bubble' for a reason. Its idyllic setting seems plucked from another era."

The grassroots effort to save Sweet Briar from closure was one of many ongoing stories that Szkotak covered with a blend of fact and flair. Others included the bid to lift Virginia's uranium mining ban, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the high-profile murder trial of a University of Virginia lacrosse player and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

While crafting his compelling narratives, Szkotak nimbly juggled other duties, cranking out breaking news, lending a hand with editing and mentoring less experienced co-workers.

He was an avid reader, loved music and enjoyed having a cappuccino while soaking up the ambiance at the Quirk Hotel, his favorite place to meet with his news sources.

Before joining the AP, Szkotak spent 13 years at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he supervised three editors with a reporting staff of 30 and served as the lead editor for the trial of serial killer Kristen Gilbert.

For a decade before that, he worked as a reporter for United Press International in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, directing coverage of the death of New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe in the space shuttle Challenger disaster and serving as the lead reporter in the Claus von Bulow attempted murder trial.

He worked his way through college in his hometown, obtaining a journalism degree from Syracuse University in 1976.

In addition to his wife, Szkotak is survived by a daughter, Molly Szkotak Hugel; a son, Fred Szkotak; a brother, two sisters and a host of in-laws.

Even as he fought his illness, Szkotak was able to fulfill his wish of walking Molly down the aisle at her May wedding.