Remembering Jonathan David Gallo (January 19, 1976 – August 9, 2023)

I got a late-night call from my good friend John Bechtel on August 9, asking me if I saw the Facebook post. I thought he was going to talk about the late Robbie Robertson, who just died, but no, it was not the leader of the Band, it was Jon Gallo, one of the leaders of the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

He died of a massive heart attack on August 9, 2023. He was 47.

Jon was at his Catonsville home when his wife, Karen, called 911 because he had trouble breathing. The ambulance arrived quickly and took him to the hospital, where doctors worked on him for an hour but couldn’t bring him back. It turned out his heart attack was caused by a congenital heart defect — something that could not even be diagnosed from his recent EKG, which had checked out fine.

I could not believe he was gone. Surely this was a sick joke. How can this be? But then I read Karen’s post on the heartbreaking news, and the dozens and dozens of friends and family who knew Jon. They wrote comments that brought you to tears. It hit me and I broke down. I had lost a great newspaperman and one of the best friends I ever had.

Karen Jacobowitz Gallo and Jon Gallo at a recent Orioles game. (Facebook)

I had just talked to Jon only a few weeks ago and we were going to catch up at lunchtime when I returned to Maryland. When he called me, I was in Montana, dealing with some personal family issues and heading soon to Denver to bury my mom, who had died earlier this year but we had to wait a few months to lay her to rest at Fort Logan Cemetery in Colorado.

Jon’s first sentence to me was as usual, “Are you doing okay?”

He had lost his dad just two years earlier and I know it was still a rough time for him and he’s asking me if I am okay. That’s typical Jon — more interested in other people’s state of mind than talking about his.

Our conversation later turned to his true passion: the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team and their former quarterback Stetson Bennett, who won two back-to-back national championships with the ‘Dawgs. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, which was my team since I was a little kid. I was a Rams fan and a Milwaukee Brewers fan with Hall of Famers QB Kurt Warner and shortstop Robin Yount being my sports heroes. When Jon learned who my sports heroes were, out of the blue, he bought me authentic jerseys of both of those players for no reason — just because that’s the type of person he was. If my wife and I went on vacation, he would watch our dogs. No problem. Don’t even have to ask, He was loyal and legitimately cared about his friends.

Jon told me in our last phone call conversation that he loves the new Rams QB Bennett. “He’s my Kurt Warner,” he says, referring to the years I rooted for Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf.

We then made plans to grab some lunch when I got back. I was thinking, my gosh, Jon, who grew up in Minnesota and is a diehard Vikings (four trips to the Super Bowl but no trophy) and Twins (three World Series and the last in 1991)  fan — may join my team because of Bennett. How cool is that! I was already planning games we could watch together.

But I kept thinking during our conversation that Jon, who was the president at InisCore Technologies in Columbia, still wanted me to join his company in some fashion and perhaps that was the reason for the call. Jon was in the middle of putting a team together for a federal contract his company had won and he kept trying to bring me on board in some position.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I just didn’t want to work corporate anymore and I was enjoying my semi-retired life riding my motorcycle across the country and visiting my sons and grandchildren. I figured at our scheduled lunch I would finally just let him know that I was proud of his work accomplishment and winning his first contract — but I just wanted to enjoy my freedom of not chasing the almighty dollar. That lunch never took place.

Now I sit with an empty feeling of not telling him all the things I should have told him when he was alive. For one,  I loved Jon Gallo as a journalist, and as a loyal friend who would stop what he was doing and meet me in the middle of the night if I was having a hard time. He was always there if you needed him. He never let me down from the very first day that our paths crossed. Even if we had an argument, Jon would always come back with his catchphrase, “Are we good?” And I’d say, “Yeah, it’s all good.”

I first met Jon when I interviewed him for the sports editor position at the Baltimore Examiner in 2006. I was the managing editor at the paper and I needed a hard-driving journalist who could develop young reporters and bring creativity to a sports department that had to be changed with ESPN reporting scores before a newspaper could even hit the streets. We didn’t need the legacy ways of covering games. We needed something different and I needed someone who could take on the Baltimore Sun and reshape how sports should be reported. Let’s not take sports so seriously but let’s have fun and think outside the box. And I needed a fierce competitor ­— someone who didn’t like to lose.

Prior to setting up the interview, his name kept popping up from journalists who said, “You have to interview Jon,” who was at the time working at The Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer for contributing to the newspaper’s Virginia Tech shooting story. He interviewed student-athletes about the tragedy.

So I called him and asked him to come to the office on Pratt Street in Baltimore for an interview. I had been interviewing multiple people for the job but Jon stepped into the interview and knocked the ball out of the park. I knew from the moment he started talking with so much passion about sports that he was the perfect candidate.

He even asked me about my college team, the Wisconsin Badgers, and he tried not to insult them too much.  I told him I would let him know in a few days. I had to check his references. But I never called the references he gave me. Instead, I called people in the business who knew of him. They all said one thing: “He will outwork everyone on your staff. ” “No one will work harder than Jon Gallo.” “You will never regret hiring him.”  That was an understatement. He was hired three days later – and he would tell me later that those three days I made him wait were some of the toughest days of his life — and then we just laughed.

At the Examiner we heard The Washington Post didn’t bother to invite him to the Pulitzer Prize celebration. We did a mock-up of an Examiner newspaper with a big bold font saying Gallo won the Pulitzer and joined the Baltimore Examiner and celebrated his accomplishment. I thought he was going to break down in tears. He was beaming.

Jon worked non-stop. He was one of the first to arrive in the early mornings and one of the last to leave and he would even show up weekends working on a special project. He produced award-winning special sections of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. that blew away the Sun’s coverage. He developed relationships with Navy football, which had been ignored by so much media. His sections drew national advertising and reporters appeared on radio and ESPN. And when he wrote, his stories were like an opening scene to Fast & Furious. His stories grabbed you from the lede and never let you go until you finished and couldn’t wait for the next column.

From the moment he took the reins as the sports editor, energy and passion poured into the newsroom floor. I challenged Jon to find a way to bring more women to the sports pages – and people who generally did not read sports. I told him that often when the newspaper is delivered men will pour into the sports pages first but why can’t we have everyone do that? I told him of the late sportscaster Glen Brenner, who had a nun pick football games and she always picked the Saints to win. People tuned in to hear what the nun had to say.

The next day he comes up with the answer: A monkey.

Yes, a monkey named Bimbo would pick the games and compete against DJs, celebrities and politicians. He found Bimbo in Howard County, where there used to be a rescue place for exotic animals. How could the monkey pick games? The monkey would be presented with two pennants and chose the pennant of the team that would win. And it worked. The monkey was a genius and beat the so-called experts. The column written by sports reporter Dave Carey under Jon’s guidance took off and advertisers started to request to have their ad next to the monkey column. And it became so popular that when the paper was delivered, it was no longer just men requesting to read the sports pages. We grew a following. And then some started to doubt whether Bimbo was actually picking the games, so we took photos and videotaped it to prove the doubters wrong.

But innovation didn’t stop with Bimbo. Jon told his sports writers to cover the Orioles games from the stands. We agreed that no news happens in the press box so let’s go sit in the stands. The result? A front-page story that Tony Giro penned about Orioles fans getting ejected from the game because they cheered too loudly for the home team and upset some Red Sox fans.

Jon worked tirelessly for three years at the Examiner before corporate decided  to close down the wrong newspaper for reasons no one really explained honestly. We made a bumper sticker that said exactly that: They Closed the Wrong Newspaper! Some took that to mean the powers that be should have closed the Sun and others thought maybe they should have closed the Washington Examiner.  We kept them guessing.

When the Examiner shuttered in 2009, we never stopped talking to each other. He had my back and I had his. Jon snagged a job at CBS Sports — which involved watching college and pro football, and editing and producing rapid reports. He brought me on part-time to help with the editing. We would actually go to his man cave with his 70-inch television and watch college football and do our one-paragraph reports that were like a ticker on the bottom of the television screen. We laughed about the irony of his career – from a Pulitzer where he crafted 2,000-word stories to now 140 characters. No one knew college football better than Jon. You could name any professional football player from just about any era, and he could tell you the college where they played. It was uncanny.

As that job came to a close, I recruited Jon to join the team at General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), where he edited an international website for South America. It was a Pentagon PSYOP program that promoted peace and democracy through words. During that time, I started developing the Baltimore Post-Examiner. And Jon was instrumental because the word “Post” in the company’s name was a nod to his Pulitzer time with the newspaper.

When the GDIT job came to an end, the Baltimore Post-Examiner was in full swing and Jon moved on to a recruiting career that was stable and paid the bills. But he approached me and said he would like to do movie reviews. At the time, we had someone doing them but he said to me, “Trust me, no one will do more reviews than me.” Of course, I knew that was true. And the side gig was his. He wrote 256 stories and reviews.

At the same time, Jon and I decided to form a nonprofit called Back to Work, where we employed dozens of unemployed journalists and gave them freelance jobs. Back to Work had become so successful at one point that we thought we might just want to focus on the nonprofit full-time. But as the economy became stronger, our business model started to tank because companies no longer were hiring freelancers; they instead hired full-time employees. We eventually closed the business.

In the meantime, Jon’s career flourished as a recruiter. He worked at CyberCore Technologies, and later became the director of recruiting & employee engagement at Capital Solutions Group and eventually was recruited to become the president of the startup, InisCore Technologies. When that happened, I realized what he told me years ago: His career dreams have all come true.

He wanted to win a Pulitzer. Check!

He wanted to run a major sports department for a newspaper. Check!

He wanted to be president of a company. Check!

And he wanted to earn six figures and the last company he worked for wrote that check!

At 47, he accomplished all his career goals but none of them compare to how proud he was of his 16-year-old daughter, Zoe, and the love of his life, Karen Jacobowitz Gallo, who gave him one of his most cherished gifts ever — a big blown-up balloon of the Georgia Mascot that Jon said would certainly increase the home values in his neighborhood. Check his Facebook post out here.

Every yard should have this. That would make Jon happy. (Facebook)

He cherished Zoe and loved hanging out with her. She was not only his daughter but truly his best friend. They traveled on trips together, went to the Orioles and Ravens games, and on one memorable trip they visited major league baseball parks and, of course, the annual family Disney cruise with his lovely wife. I asked him why so many Disney cruises. His answer was, “Zoe loves Disney.”

Jon Gallo preparing to jump off a building after celebrating his 40th and getting in shape. (Facebook)

Whenever we were together he always talked about Zoe and even brought her to Buffalo Wild Wings to see my new motorcycle. We would often have heart-to-heart conversations and one day I told him, if he wanted to be around, he needed to take care of himself and get in shape. Jon took that as a challenge and seven years ago his competitive spirit took over. He joined LifeTime Fitness and competed in a weight-loss contest where he came in second place nationwide. He worked out every single morning on the elliptical. He was not happy about the second place because he lost by only a few pounds and thought if he had worn lighter clothing at the weigh-in he would have captured that prize. He celebrated his weight loss and his 40th birthday with a trip to Las Vegas and bungee jumped 855 feet off the Stratosphere. Check the “Director’s Cut” video on his Facebook page.

If you check out his Facebook page, you can clearly see the happiest times were with his family. The love they professed to each other is spread out through those pages. It’s warm, genuine and everlasting.

Do you want an example? Read his Facebook post about celebrating those Georgia ‘Dawgs with his daughter at 2:30 in the morning.

Clearly, he was in heaven when his beloved Georgia football team won back-to-back national championships just as he is today. I don’t think there was a bigger Georgia Bulldogs fan in the nation. You can see his love pour out of those Facebook pages for his team, Zoe and Karen.

But his big heart reached so many others.

So I ask all of those who have been touched by the grace of Jon Gallo to do something for me tonight. When you sit down for dinner, raise your glass and make a toast to my good friend by saying these two words “Go ‘Dawgs!” Because we are all Georgia fans tonight.