Editor’s Note: It is with great sadness that we report the passing of beloved journalist, professor, mentor, and friend Hal Foster who penned articles and poems for the Baltimore Post-Examiner as well as dozens of newspapers and online publications around the world throughout his amazing career. Hal died with his daughter Angie, a talented musician by his side in Idaho. Hal will be missed.
His close friend Larry Luxner wrote a beautiful eulogy on Facebook that we are reposting here.
By Larry Luxner
Sad news to report: I’ve just been informed of the death of my longtime friend and colleague, Hal Foster, in Idaho. Hal was a veteran, old-school reporter and Nebraska native who built up his career in Japan and later Central Asia.
Both of us worked at GDIT as editors in Rockville, Maryland — though not at the same time — and I had already heard quite a few stories about him. It was in late 2013, when Hal was a visiting professor of journalism at Narzabayev University in Kazakhstan, that we first actually met during a press trip there (Hal appears briefly in a video documentary we did for the Washington Diplomat).
Three years later, I joined the staff of BioNews Services as a copy editor and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Hal — by then living in Ukraine — was already part of the BioNews team. From that point on, Hal and I collaborated on many story assignments related to rare diseases. Like me, he hated bad writing, and we jokingly shared our disdain for corporate buzzwords and BS — all too common in the copy we often had to edit.
Hal wrote with passion and honesty, and his coverage of rare disease conferences (including a gathering of Polish spinal muscular atrophy patients and experts in Warsaw, and a separate rare-disease conference in Ohrid, Macedonia) was second to none. During our years of friendship, I visited Hal twice — once in Tbilisi, Georgia, and then again in Kishinev, Moldova.
Hal was a fiercely liberal Democrat who had no patience for stupidity or bureaucracy, and had a deep sense of justice which came through in his writing. He was also stubborn and didn’t take kindly to criticism, so sometimes we sparred on deadline, but the result was always a well-written article. On Feb. 23, BioNews — already caught in the economic grip of coronavirus fallout — dismissed half of its staff; Hal and I both lost our jobs that day.
A specialist in Eastern Europe who was fluent in Russian, perhaps it was fate that Hal would end up teaching journalism at the University of Idaho in the small town of Moscow. But the one thing this fearless 75-year-old tough guy was terrified of was catching coronavirus — and the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic became the focus of his last assignment for his students, many of whom produced essays that were so good, they got published in local media. The irony is that Hal never even had COVID-19.
However, the stress caused him to have a massive heart attack and stroke that temporarily left one of his legs paralyzed. He recovered to the point that only two weeks ago, Hal called me from rehab and said he was feeling much better and was eager to get back to work. But then he had a relapse; his weakened heart was only working at 10% of capacity and on June 11, he died peacefully, with his beloved daughter Angie by his side.
Shortly before that relapse, Hal wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for a medical reporting job I had applied for, and I thanked him for his help. His reply: “I’ll always be there for you.” That is the last text message I have from him. In tribute to my colleague and buddy, I post these two photos — one from Georgia, and one from Kazakhstan, both in happier times. Rest in peace, my friend.
Feature photo: Hal Foster inspects crafts for sale at the Saturday outdoor flea market in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Baltimore Post-Examiner is run by a creative cadre of dedicated journalists – some who worked at the Washington Post, Baltimore Examiner and other regional and national publications. It’s the Post-Examiner because we love the play on the word “Post” but we are also hoping to answer that question: What’s next after newspapers? We see a lot of websites come and go – and many simply are not making it for various reasons. We have been a model of success since we launched in 2012 with “a little bit of everything” and we aim to continue to break that cycle of websites coming and going.