[NYtenants-online] More Julie Lobbia Tributes

Tenant tenant@tenant.net
Fri, 07 Dec 2001 09:09:30 -0500

NYtenants Online/TenantNet                                12/7/01


from Riverfront Times (St. Louis)
from Chicago Tribune
from The Smoking Gun
from the Daily News
Letters to the Village Voice

Riverfront Times (St. Louis, Missouri)
by Ray Hartmann
November 28, 2001 Wednesday

I believe I hear a voice from heaven, and the message is loud and clear:

"Don't write this. Don't you dare write this. I mean it. I'm gonna come 
down and haunt you if you write about me. Isn't there some new stadium 
angle you can think up? Better yet, run letters. That's always a good 
choice in your case."

Sorry, Julie Lobbia -- this one's for you.

Julie died last week on Thanksgiving Day, taken from us by ovarian cancer 
at 43, and, like the countless number of friends she touched, I want the 
whole world to know what it has lost: one great reporter -- albeit a 
self-effacing one -- and as pure a soul as any of us has ever known.

I realize that most Riverfront Times readers didn't know Julie personally, 
but, gratuitous as this might be, I'll beg your indulgence anyhow. After 
all, this was a person who cared deeply about strangers, people she had 
never met.

It would be fitting if, at her death, a few strangers could care about her 
in return.

Julie worked at the RFT from 1983-90, first as a reporter and ultimately -- 
and reluctantly -- as managing editor. Her impact on the development of 
this newspaper was without parallel: Though the paper was founded in 1977, 
it only began attempting to take on serious journalistic topics three years 
later, and it only started doing it consistently well when the byline "J.A. 
Lobbia" showed up.

At the RFT, she authored hundreds of stories (dozens featured on the cover) 
on a multitude of subjects, but if there was a common thread in her 
journalism, it was the tenacity with which she stood up for the little guy. 
If ever a reporter lived up to the old adage "Comfort the afflicted and 
afflict the comfortable," it was J.A. Lobbia.

Her investigative pieces over three years about how public funds were being 
wasted on the VP Fair led to an end to that practice, and the savings to 
taxpayers -- arguably continuing today -- was in the millions. She 
championed the causes of tenants, gays and lesbians, racial minorities, a 
whistleblower fired by the county, you name it: The list is endless.

Lobbia specialized in environmental stories, producing incisive probes into 
the dangers of hazardous-waste storage on the East Side and at the airport 
and of threats to drinking water in Valley Park. Much of her work was 
prescient: She questioned Monsanto's budding biotech forays as early as 
1985 and federal plans to make St. Louis is a "hub for nuclear garbage" in 

By the time Julie left for a prestigious spot at the Village Voice in New 
York, she had been an editorial mainstay at the RFT for almost all of its 
serious editorial life. Yet her only career was just beginning: As a 
reporter and columnist, focusing mostly on housing and tenants-rights 
issues, she became one of New York's most respected journalists.

"Her columns gave dignified voice to New York's most vulnerable citizens -- 
the homeless, the elderly, immigrants, displaced artists, community 
gardeners," said Andrea Kannapell, a New York Times reporter who had worked 
with her at the Voice. New city, same J.A. Lobbia.

Proudly displayed next to her casket at the funeral home on Monday was a 
reproduction of a 1999 Voice cover story authored by Lobbia, taking Mayor 
Rudolph Giuliani and others to task for allowing politics to jeopardize 
programs for the needy. "Heartless Bastards" proclaimed the headline.

It was a fitting sendoff for a journalist whose ferocious column, "Towers 
and Tenements," won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen's Club of New 
York. The Society of Professional Journalists gave her a Best Columnist 
Award and a Golden Typewriter Award, and on and on.

But what made Julie special wasn't the awards she won, at the RFT or at the 
Voice, but how she won them: with utter humility. At the funeral home, in 
Julie's native city of Chicago, one of her sisters told me that their 
wonderful mother did have an unanswered question:

"She was so proud of Julie's awards," Lori Lobbia told me, "but she was 
wondering about how many there were that Julie didn't tell her about."

Never has there lived a person more unjustifiably devoid of ego. She could 
always take a joke but never a compliment.

Ah yes, the jokes. If there's anything I treasure from nearly two decades 
of friendship with this most serious journalist, it's that it was so 
joyfully not serious. Our relationship was essentially a running mutual 
short joke -- I figure she was about 4-foot-3, and she had me at 4-foot-9 
-- and, as it was for so many others, she always made me smile.

Actually standing a little under 5 feet tall, clad -- how shall we put 
this? -- in a less-than-imposing manner, diminutive Julie was a 
journalistic Columbo, pleasantly disheveled, harmless as a flea on the 
surface. Meeting her would hardly strike fear in the heart of a greedy 
developer or oppressive landlord (especially if they'd showed up at the 
RFT, where she usually hung out in a cluttered office with her shoes off, 
looking like a junior-high kid at a slumber party).

That is, until the story came out. At first glance, this might have seemed 
like just some cute little Italian girl, but beneath that beguiling 
exterior lived a fearless, thorough, tireless, honest, world-class reporter.

Julie was a ball of glorious paradoxes, except one: Her commitment to 
helping the less fortunate in her journalism was matched by a private life 
filled with giving and charity the likes of which I've never seen. She 
didn't contain an ounce of meanness or prejudice, and she really cared.

No wonder her beloved husband, Joseph S. Jesselli -- a fellow journalist 
whom she met at the Voice -- was proud when people called him Mr. Lobbia. 
No wonder her best friend, Jeff Truesdell, eulogized her on Tuesday as "an 
unbelievable woman, the absolute kindest person in the world."

I love you, Julie Lobbia, and so do a hell of a lot of other people. The 
world will miss you more than you'd ever have been willing to admit.

Now, go ahead and haunt me all you want.

Julie Anne Lobbia
November 25, 2001

Julie Anne Lobbia, age 43, November 23, in New York, NY. Wife of Joseph 
Jesselli of New York, NY; daughter of Julie, nee Bertoletti and the late 
Adolph Lobbia of Homewood, IL; sister of Janice (John) Szostek of Chicago, 
Loretta (Thomas Coultry) Lobbia of Liverpool, NY, and John (Roberta) Lobbia 
of Northville, MI; beloved niece, cousin and aunt; loyal friend and 
colleague of her Village Voice co-workers and New York's Journalism 
Community. At Panozzo Bros. Funeral Home, 530 W. 14th St., (US Rt. 30, 3 
blks E. of Western Avenue) Chicago Heights on Sunday from 2 to 9 p.m. and 
Monday from 2 to 9 p.m. Funeral Tuesday, 8:45 a.m. to St. Joseph Church, 
Homewood. Mass 9:30 a.m. Interment Holy Sepulchre. In lieu of flowers 
donations to EARN-A-BIKE Program Recycle a Bike, 75 Avenue C., New York, NY 
10009. For further info, 708-481-9230.


Our Sister

On Thanksgiving morning, Julie Lobbia died at age 43. She was the wife of 
TSG reporter Joe Jesselli and, for the other three guys who run this site, 
Julie was our editor, friend, colleague, confidante, and sister.

All four of us met her at The Village Voice, where Julie worked as an 
editor and reporter. She wrote about poverty and homelessness, and was our 
city's best housing reporter (and was regularly honored for her 
distinguished work). I had the great privilege of working with her for a 
decade. She initially edited my copy, a previously joyless process that 
quickly became one of the highlights of my work week.

When Julie shifted to writing full time, we'd exchange tips, story ideas, 
reporting advice, or just plain office gossip. Our daily skull sessions 
occurred in Julie's office, which was forever cluttered with her beloved 
bicycle, files, newspapers, and whatever it was that she had picked up off 
the street that morning (she probably would have been a dumpster diver, but 
at five feet tall, Julie would have needed to tote around a step ladder). 
When she would hold up her latest find for inspection--a fallen bolt from 
the Manhattan Bridge, for example--Julie would ask, "Isn't this fabulous?" 
"That it is, sister," I'd say.

These were found objects from the municipal timeline of her second 
city--Julie was born and raised on Chicago's South Side--and she heartily 
embraced them. In fact, we like to think of Joe as another of those odd 
curios that Julie had the good sense to scoop up. She had a powerful 
curiosity about New York (and most everything else), one that propelled 
her, on bike or by foot, to all corners of our great city.

When she told me about some planned trek to the hinterlands of 
Queens--where I was born and raised--I provincially explained that there 
really wasn't much to see outside of Shea Stadium, the Lemon Ice King of 
Corona, and John Gotti's Bergin Hunt & Fish Club. Of course, she'd return 
in a few days with a marvelous story of discovery, having wheeled out to 
where the concrete turns into marshland. She even enjoyed bicycling to 
Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, an often fetid body of water (sure, it would have 
been easier to pedal along a pleasant Hudson River path, but that wasn't 
Julie's thing).

Last month, while recuperating from surgery, she called with a rundown of a 
rollicking visit that afternoon by my wife and nearly 2-year-old child. She 
was delighted to recount how my son bounced around her apartment fiddling 
with volume controls, assorted electronic devices, and generally pawing and 
gumming everything in sight. For me, it was a delicious image--my two 
favorite small bundles of energy trapped together in a Manhattan studio 

So we're still in shock that this electric presence in our lives is gone, 
stunned by the rapidity with which the cancer consumed Julie's body. At her 
wake and funeral in Chicago earlier this week, friends and family were 
overwhelmed by grief, a sad testament to the love and depth of feeling we 
had for Julie. That anguish was only tempered by the bittersweet 
remembrances offered by Julie's friends and family, including her 
83-year-old mother. Julia Lobbia, a luminous wonder, spoke of how grateful 
she was that God allowed her to have Julie Anne, the youngest of her four 
children, for 43 glorious years. Joe, too, noted how lucky he was to have 
been married to Julie for seven wonderful years.

On the wallet-sized memorial card that was given to those attending Julie's 
wake, there's a small black and white photo of her flashing a big smile. 
Underneath the inscription "Julie Anne Lobbia 1958-2001," is something a 
gravely ill Julie told a friend as she lay in her hospital bed days before 
her death. "Life is full of wonder and joy," she said.

We'll deeply miss her.

--William Bastone

Friday, November 23, 2001
Obituary: J.A. Lobbia

J.A. Lobbia, an investigative reporter for The Village Voice whose columns 
on housing issues won many awards, died yesterday at NYU Medical Center. 
She was 43 and lived in Manhattan's Little Italy. The cause was ovarian 
cancer, said her husband, Joseph Jesselli.

Her "Towers & Tenements" column, which won a 2001 Front Page Award from the 
Newswomen's Club of New York, depicted tenants' perspectives in the battle 
between development and preservation of city neighborhoods.

She won several awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, 
including best columnist from the New York chapter, the Golden Typewriter 
for her 1998 rendition of a recurring Village Voice feature, "New York's 10 
Worst Landlords" and honors for a 1993 article, "New York's 10 Worst Judges."

Besides her husband, she is survived by her mother, Julia Lobbia, of 
Homewood, Ill., a brother and two sisters.

LETTERS TO THE VILLAGE VOICE (week following Wayne Barret's tribute)
Week of December 5 - 11, 2001


Editor's Note: Following is some of the initial mail received in response 
to the death of {J.A. Lobbia}, who authored the Voice's Towers & Tenements 

This is only the second letter I've ever written to the Voice, which says 
something about the power of J.A. Lobbia. Obviously, a one-page obituary 
can list only a few of her good deeds. I'd like to add that though I never 
met her, she helped me resolve a landlord problem and keep my apartment. 
For a few years, I gave her office number to lots of folks in need of 
housing guidance. I knew she'd take the time to speak to them, which she 
did, serving as a one-person hotline. But it wasn't just the practical 
advice that made those who spoke to her feel better, although she saved 
many. It was the strength and encouragement we derived from the knowledge 
that there is good in this world.

Michael Vazquez

Julie Lobbia was a towering conscience, a gifted journalist, and a 
wonderful person for those fortunate enough to know her (as I was as a 
housing reporter at The New York Times). Like the continuing light of an 
extinguished star, her radiance shines forever bright.

Bruce Lambert
Long Beach, New York

I'm sure that many readers, like me, share your grief at the loss of J.A. 
Lobbia. She was quite simply the best reporter we have had covering housing.

John L. Hess

I was saddened to learn, via Wayne Barrett's lovely eulogy [December 4], of 
the passing of J.A. Lobbia. Her coverage of housing issues was unique, 
important, and will be exceedingly difficult to replace. But I hope you'll 

Richard Barr

The writer is a housing activist and was a press secretary for former New 
York State attorney general Robert Abrams.

I am sitting at my desk in central Illinois overcome after reading Wayne 
Barrett's tribute to Julie Lobbia. One thing that was not mentioned in the 
article is that Julie got her start at the investigative monthly The 
Chicago Reporter. It was something she was very proud of. In fact, I was 
introduced to her through an assignment she had to report on a birthing 
clinic on the South Side of Chicago. At the time, I had a one-year-old and 
was expecting my second child. I tagged along with my sister Mary Sue, who 
had been Julie's friend since high school, as the birthing authority. As a 
young mom with a beauty school education, my experience with Julie was 
typical of everyone's that I've heard recently. As was stated in the eulogy 
at her funeral, Julie made you feel taller, smarter, and funnier than 
perhaps you are—and that came from her genuine regard for every person she 
met. What a loss.

Marsha Fogarty
Normal, Illinois