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R.I.P. Peter Lord

April 4, 2012

Peter Lord, one of  New England’s top environmental journalists and the Providence Journal’s longtime environmental reporter, has died after a protracted battle with brain cancer. He was 60.

Lord, of South Kingstown, covered just about every major environmental story in Rhode Island for more than three decades and took his intellectual curiosity and lucid writing style to such far-flung topics as whales in Alaska, an oil spill off the Shetland Islands and global warming.

In a business replete with healthy egos and diva-like self regard, Lord was a humble man with a grand passion for his job and people. He was a great reporter and an even better person.He cared little for the awards that journalists love handing out to each other. For Lord, the story and the telling were all.

“Everybody who knew him liked him. He was passionate about his family and passionate about the environment,’’ said Jean Plunkett, a former ProJo editor who worked closely with Lord on two of his best series, a six-part 2001 investigative series about the public health implications of lead paint on children, and a 2005 series about the history of conservation on Block Island.

Lord served in many roles as a ProJo reporter, including chief of the former West Bay bureau and on the Providence night staff. But he made his reputation as an environmental reporter and as a fine mentor for young journalists. He also taught journalism at the University of Connecticut, his alma mater, and at the University of Rhode Island.

Lord always had time to help young reporters and was very generous with his time and knowledge.And he was active at the Metcalf Institute at URI.

Journalism, especially in Rhode Island, has become a business that too often values gotcha journalism, and those prize-mongering never ending so-called `investigative ‘stories. He didn’t care much about the `news’ that dominates Page One too often these days; the latest state lawmaker jammed up on DUI or who won Powerball.

What Lord cared and wrote about were the things that really should matter to our citizens and our media outlets. He cared about the water we drink, the air we breathe, the toxins that threaten our children, the sewage and oil we dump into our beloved Narragansett Bay, the magnificent species that inhabit our oceans and the open spaces that should be preserved for our children and grandchildren.

Lord was that rare reporter equally at home on big developed stories and breaking news. He did a masterful job on the North Cape oil spill that threatened Rhode Island’s coast.

In the autumn of 2010, before he became sick with the brain tumor that would eventually kill him, Lord was shifted from his environmental beat to coverage of   politics, specifically the U.S. House elections. He wasn’t happy about it and thought it represented a twisted priority on the part of his editors. But he covered the election without complaint and did a creditable job. He was also instrumental in coverage of the famous Cranston Lland Deal mess in the 1980s during the administration of disgraced Gov. Edward D. DiPrete.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said it best this afternoon when he said that Lord was a man of great integrity who reported his beat without fear or favor.

Lord had a wonderful dry sense of humor. He was a Red Sox and Boston Celtics fan and enjoyed boating. He was a reporter, even as he got on in years, who never mailed it in.

“He was a guy who worked hard and treated everybody well. He always wanted to do his best work,’’ said Plunkett. “He didn’t have a big ego…..I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him.’’

Lord was very proud of his close-knit family. He leaves his children, Katie, Jimmy and Ben, and his lovely wife of 36 years, Mary Ann Lord, a retired public school teacher.

The old chestnut that the cemeteries are filled with people who couldn’t be replaced does not apply in Lord’s case. In our cozy state Lord was truly one who makes a mockery of that cliché. He will be sorely missed by all of his friends and colleagues and, indeed, the people of a state that he informed so well for so long.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. M. Charles Bakst permalink
    April 4, 2012 10:10 pm

    Beautiful tribute, well said, right on. Peter’s death is a first class human tragedy and an incalculable loss for readers.

  2. April 4, 2012 10:46 pm

    Peter Lord’s career is proof that an individual with a key board can make a difference. If only more us of could hit his marks.

  3. April 4, 2012 11:35 pm

    Peter and I worked well together as I’m sure he did with all the photographers at the Journal.

  4. Les gutterman permalink
    April 5, 2012 1:12 am

    a beautiful tribute, scott

  5. April 5, 2012 1:46 am

    Beautiful Scott. Just beautiful. He would love this.

  6. Ames Colt permalink
    April 5, 2012 1:49 am

    One of the best question askers I’ve ever encountered. Ready to help you with a well-placed story or mention, but always on his terms.

    Always paid attention. Always a gentleman. Always easy to talk with. Gave much valuable energy and gravitas to the Metcalf Institute fr Marine and Environmental Reporting.

  7. Martha Ball, Block Island permalink
    April 5, 2012 1:59 pm

    Not everyone truly sees the earth; Peter did and used his considerable talents to help the rest of us keep – or open – our eyes. In his hands journalism was – as it should be but so often is not – an honorable calling.

  8. April 5, 2012 3:10 pm

    A gentleman, a journalist of the highest calling – irreplaceable, already missed

    Ed Quinlan, East Greenwich

  9. April 5, 2012 5:07 pm

    I had occaision to speak with Peter quite a few times over the years over various issues. He was always courteous and curious. There is no question he was a true and fine professional journalist and a delight to work with. My only regret is not knowing him better personally – I think I missed a chance to know a great guy. I am so sorry to hear of his death at all to young an age.

  10. Tom Barry permalink
    April 5, 2012 6:04 pm

    Peter Lord was a class act. I met him when I worked in state government. He was always fair and percise in his reporting. He was always a gentileman.

  11. Bob Lavalley permalink
    April 5, 2012 7:20 pm

    I was blessed to work with Peter while he was sick and our topics of discussion were many. He thought me misguided politically and wanted to “help” me. In the very brief period I knew Peter I could sense the impact he had on others. Although I never spoke to him since, I will always regard him as one the best friends of my life and I will never forget him. Bob Lavalley.

  12. helene cooper permalink
    April 5, 2012 7:41 pm

    This is beautiful, Scott. What a huge, huge loss. Peter is the main reason why I so wanted to get hired by the ProJo after my summer internship in the West Bay bureau way back in 1987. He was the best editor ever. i still remember filing a story to him about the Playboy Channel being dropped in Rhode Island cos it wasn’t dirty enough, and my lede was “In Rhode Island, the Playboy Channel is a big bust,” and he tried mightily to get the copy desk to keep the lede. Of course they said no. But we were yukking it up all afternoon in the office looking for ways around them.

    I already miss him.

  13. Peter Ginaitt permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:13 pm

    As the former chairman of the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and before that the Joint Committee on the Environment for the Rhode Island House of Representatives for more than a decade, I can credit Peter with fair and honest reporting that dealt with the issues at hand. Peter’s passion for the environment and his challenge as a journalist placed him in a unique position to help make change. He in so many ways was the voice of those who simply loved this state and the magnificent resources it provides and had no other agendas to drive.

    Peter was a good friend over the years and provided a tremendous benefit to an area of reporting that will be hard to replace. His life was tragically shortened but his legacy will be felt forever. He will be so sadly missed!

    Peter Ginaitt


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