Requiescat in pace

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Jack Zink, longtime theater critic and cultural affairs writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, died today at 10:30 a.m. at his home, with his wife Cynthia by his side. And the world is now a colder and less gracious place.

Jack handled the lung cancer, which was diagnosed last fall and took his life Monday morning at age 61, with the same resolve, optimism, and stoic Midwestern lack of fuss, with which he approached a difficult review, intractable interview subject or complex research into an arts organization’s tax records.

When Jack began covering the arts in South Florida in 1969, Richard Nixon was the new president, Apollo XI made the first manned landing on the moon, the Woodstock Music Festival attracted 400,000 people, and Midnight Cowboy was playing in the nation’s movie theaters.

In the intervening four decades, Jack logged time at all three of the region’s major papers, the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, as well as handling chores as Florida correspondent for Variety for two decades.

“He was driven and completely committed to everything he did,” said publicist Charlie Cinnamon who enjoyed a close working relationship dating from Jack’s earliest days in Florida. “From the beginning of his career, he was an extraordinary gentleman and as gentle as they come.”

“I felt that Jack was a pillar of the community,’ said producer Jay Harris. “He was selfless and put the entertainment of South Florida ahead of his own well being.” Harris was particularly impressed with Jack’s tireless dedication and the long hours he put in as founder and guiding light of the Carbonell Awards, the regional arts honors the stature of which Jack’s efforts played a large part in achieving.

“He volunteered with his time in many, many things. He was so dedicated to the entertainment industry,” said Harris. “He was an icon in his own way. He leaves a legacy that will be a very hard act to follow.”

Like all good critics, Jack was an enthusiast, and never tired of the daily beat coverage. At his retirement party last month, outgoing Sun-Sentinel arts and entertainment editor Robin Berkowitz noted how Jack would review the umpteenth local production of Fiddler on the Roof with the same zeal and seriousness as if he were hearing it for the first time.

At busy peak season, when critics a decade and a half younger than him had turned to glassy-eyed zombies, Jack would be in the office most of the day, writing, conducting interviews, and editing, before dashing off to yet another performance without missing a beat or a word of complaint.

“On matters of arts and entertainment in South Florida, Jack was authoritative in a way that may be disappearing,” writes Sean Piccoli, Sun-Sentinel pop music critic in an email reminiscence. “The trend nowadays is to offload our actual memory of people, places and events to Web sites like Google and Wikipedia. Not Jack. Tech-savvy as he was, he insisted on carrying his institutional knowledge inside of his head. Jack wrote with a very full awareness of the region’s cultural life, and its development over the decades that he lived and worked here, and I was always awed by the extent of his knowledge.”

Sean also points out that the collision of volatile, passionate personalities in any newsroom’s arts and entertainment department needed the unruffled center of gravity that Jack’s presence provided.

“Jack went about his work with exemplary patience and calm,” writes Sean. “A noisy newsroom is a wonderful thing, but there has to be someone in that setting to balance out the cacophony. In our corner of the Sun Sentinel, Jack was that guy— rational, gentle and quietly amused at the hysterics occasionally exhibited by some of his colleagues.”

Jack’s energy never seemed to flag, whether keeping a daunting pace of theater coverage, the vast amount of time he devoted to the Carbonells, or the hundreds of hours freely volunteered to his condo board and church. For all his hectic scheduling, he somehow managed to maintain a surgically neat desktop compared to the mass of papers, press releases, CDs and coffee-stained effluvia of the ink-stained wretches around him.

John Charles Zink was born March 7, 1947 in Lorain, Ohio, a steel and ship-building enclave on Lake Erie west of Cleveland, the oldest of six children. Jack graduated from St. Mary High School, where he was active in the drama club, debate teams, intramural basketball, and started at tight end in varsity football.

Jack began his journalism career as an intern at The Elyria Chronicle-Telegram in 1968, where among his varied roles was covering the inaugural season of the Blossom Music Center and the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer concert series. He attended the University of Dayton before transferring to Ohio State University’s journalism program. Following graduation from OSU in 1969, Jack took the first of his journalism jobs in Florida where he was editor of the Miami Herald’s Lively Arts in Broward County. Two years later he moved to the Fort Lauderdale News as entertainment editor for nearly a decade (1971-80) and then to a two-year stint (1983-1985) in the same position for the Palm Beach Post & Evening Times.

At this time, South Florida entertainment was evolving from a refuge of creaky vaudeville and supper clubs to a growing pop, theater and classical music scene. Among those he met and profiled were Janis Joplin, Dustin Hoffman and Luciano Pavarotti.

In 1987, Jack returned to the role of theater critic at the Sun-Sentinel, where he also took on the new role of cultural affairs reporter/commentator, where his accumulated knowledge and experience of the region’s arts scene would prove invaluable.

Over his long career Jack covered virtually everything that could be considered entertainment—as well as some things that barely qualified: theater news and reviews, film, television, books, classical music, opera, dance, nightclubs and popular music. He received the Sun-Sentinel’s highest award, the Fred Pettijohn Award, as well as the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, voted by members of the arts and entertainment industry. He was Florida correspondent for Variety and Daily Variety from 1977 to 1995. When I left the Sun-Sentinel in the fall of 2006 he eagerly took upon his already teeming plate, the classical music beat, gracefully handling reviews of Palm Beach Opera and Florida Grand Opera and coordinating an ambitious schedule of freelance coverage.

While he was best known as theater critic and prolific reviewer, Jack was proud of his reporting and investigative work. A series of reports and columns about management at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts prompted the Florida State Legislature to overhaul the center’s management in the early 1990s. Later, his reporting on the Florida Entertainment Commission proved instrumental in the Legislature’s decision to dissolve that agency. But it is his work as founder, executive director and guiding light of the nationally recognized Carbonell Awards, South Florida’s regional arts honors, which may be his greatest professional legacy.

As with all critics, Jack had his share of memorable stories.  When a translator failed to show up, he had a friendly but worthless interview with a young unknown Italian tenor who was about to make his American debut in Miami yet could not speak a word of English—Pavarotti. He interviewed Kirk Douglas while the actor un-self-consciously sunned nude on his hotel balcony. And, once after a negative review, an enraged Robert Goulet called the newsroom and told Jack he was coming over to “punch your lights out.”

A young hot-headed actor went further than threats over the phone. Following a tepid review of a new street theater company, the furious actor went to the Sun-Sentinel newsroom to confront Jack. (These were pre-security days when anyone could simply walk into a city newsroom.) Unaware that the theater critic had just left to get a sandwich around the corner, the outraged actor demanded to see Jack and, when told he wasn’t there, erupted and attacked the metro editor on duty. The police were called, and Jack returned to the office, bewildered at seeing the now-contrite thespian being hauled away in cuffs, crying, “Jack, I didn’t mean it!”

Accomplished and prolific as his theater writing was, Jack’s occasional article off the theater beat produced some terrific work. His essays for the Sun-Sentinel’s Travel section on his trip to Egypt and, especially, a summer vacation visiting Civil War battlefields with Cynthia—Jack was a lifelong Civil War buff—–were gems of observant reporting and evocative writing.

But it was Jack’s kindness, good humor and unfailing personal and professional generosity that will remain in the memory of his colleagues. He was a sounding board and source of advice for younger reporters dealing with the inevitable office conflicts and battles with editors. And in the media/entertainment milieu in transient South Florida—where duplicity, mendacity, and getting ahead at any cost are often the normal state of things—Jack’s honesty, integrity, and fundamental decency remain touchstones now and always.

Jack is survived by his wife Cynthia, and daughters Derika Jeanne Zink and Susan Fuguet, from a previous marriage to Susan Haskell-Hall who died in 1983. He was also a loving stepfather to Cynthia’s son Vincent and daughter Mary.

A private funeral service for family and close friends will be held Saturday morning. A public memorial tribute will take place 3 p.m. Monday at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St., Fort Lauderdale. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Ambrose Episcopalian Church, 2250 SW 31st Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312 or to The Carbonell Awards, Inc. at P.O. Box 14211, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33302-4211.

Posted in appreciation, column


4 Responses to “Requiescat in pace”

  1. Posted Aug 19, 2008 at 7:52 pm by Charlyne Schaub

    Larry:
    Thank you for your beautiful tribute to Jack. All of us who knew and respected him prayed that a miracle would save him. Now, that he’s gone we will all continue to cherish the intelligence, joy and devotion he brought to all of our lives.

  2. Posted Aug 19, 2008 at 8:31 pm by Rod S. Hagwood

    I is people like Jack Zink that made me want to work for newspaper in the first place. You’ll never see that kind of ewalth of knowledge walking around a television studio….not without an equal amount of arrogance. Jack was about as anti-arrogant as one can be.

  3. Posted Aug 20, 2008 at 3:13 pm by Anonymous

    Hi Larry,
    After reading your wonderful tribute to Jack, I feel I know him a little better. We’re going to miss him. Doreen Christensen

  4. Posted Aug 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm by robin berkowitz

    Thanks, Larry, for capturing this extraordinary man so eloquently. The South Florida arts and journalism communities alike have lost an irreplaceable asset in Jack, and those who worked with him have lost a great friend and colleague.

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Mon Aug 18, 2008
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