Marv Cermak — the generally cordial, sometimes cranky but always active newspaperman — died Tuesday at Albany Medical Center Hospital.
Cermak, who lived in Schenectady, was 84. A story on the Times Union website said Cermak had been stricken at home on Monday.
He was a longtime reporter and columnist for the Times Union in Albany, and composed his “Covering Schenectady” column each week. The column that became his final piece appeared in the newspaper’s Tuesday edition. The final words included takes about football players from the past, the old Red Coach Grill restaurants, the Cranberry Bog in Colonie and the new Million Dollar Mile Route 9 highway in Lake George.
Cermak also worked as a sportswriter at the Schenectady Gazette — which became The Daily Gazette in 1990 — during the 1950s and through the ’60s.
“He was a microlocal, local reporter before there was any label like that,” said Mike Spain, associate editor for the Times Union. “He knew what made a story a story was the people in the story, he figured that out early. I think that was because he was such a good sportswriter when he was working with The Gazette. He just got to know people and he learned how to tell all these little stories about them … he just knew that if you tell a story about somebody, it’s more than just reporting the cold facts. And he was good at it. He did it a long time and he got really good at it.”
Cermak started at The Gazette during the mid-1950s and left the paper in 1968, starting at the former Knickerbocker News in early 1969. He was with the “Knick” until the paper closed in 1988 and then began writing exclusively for the Times Union.
Cermak “retired” from the paper in 2002, but still continued his weekly column. Spain said the senior reporter would routinely call in or email news tips to the city desk.
Before newspapers, Cermak was a top athlete. He went to Schenectady’s former Mont Pleasant High School and made The Gazette’s all-county scholastic football team in 1948.
Cermak liked walking, and could be seen at train stations, the Proctors arcade and other places just watching the crowds. He also kept late hours at home.
“You could call Marv any time of the day or night — well, not day, strike that, any time of the night,” said Mike DeMasi, a former Daily Gazette city hall reporter who is now a reporter for the Albany Business Review. “If you had insomnia, there was one guy you could pick up the phone at 2:30 in the morning and you knew he was going to answer and you knew he was going to be wide awake.”
Albert Jurczynski, who served as Schenectady mayor from 1996 until 2003, took advantage of Cermak’s late hours.
“There were many times when I was mayor, I’d wake up and give him a call and I’d talk to him and we’d talk for an hour, and hour and a half,” Jurczynski said. “This was like 3, 4 in the morning. I always knew I could give Marv a call and he’d answer the phone. It was the middle of the day for him.”
Another former mayor, Karen B. Johnson, remembered Cermak’s dedication to knowing what was going on in the city.
“He had his loves and his hates and I always enjoyed talking to him, he just was all attitude,” said Johnson, now director of the capital campaign for Proctors. “ ‘This is right, and this is wrong, and I’m for the right.’ He had opinions on every single person; he never told me what it was of me.”
Other writers also spoke highly of Cermak’s work ethic.
“Marv was a fierce competitor, and we reporters at The Gazette really had to hustle to keep up with him,” said Morgan Lyle, who was on the Schenectady city political beat during the late 1990s. “But he was also a warm and funny guy, and a good friend. In our many conversations, hanging around City Hall, he cursed like a sailor and railed against craven politicians, corrupt cops and slumlords. He cared deeply about Schenectady and took his responsibility as a journalist very seriously.”
Former Daily Gazette reporter and columnist Carl Strock said he and Cermak became friendly competitors.
“We were in the same game and we were friends,” Strock said. “We got to respect each other and he was a lot of fun. We’d sit next to each other at City Council meetings and whisper sarcasm back and forth to each other, making sardonic remarks. He was a good guy to compete against and he had good sources. He had a wonderful, cynical attitude that I appreciated.”
Daily Gazette Executive Sports Editor Mark McGuire worked with Cermak at the Times Union for more than a decade.
“Marv was a throwback reporter in the best sense, gathering information at board meetings and bars and in late night — or, sometimes, early morning — phone calls,” McGuire said. “He knew Schenectady, its history and, most of all, its people better than anyone.
“As cranky as he was — ‘cantankerous’ is the word often used to describe him — he was incredibly generous with his time helping other reporters,” McGuire added. “His institutional memory and contacts could not be matched, and he was more than willing to help colleagues.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.