John Wilke was a lucky guy. He was passionate about his work, he had loyal friends, and he deeply loved his family. He was magnetic and gracious and a role model for untold numbers of younger reporters, including me.
He was forever reminding us that we had the best damn job in the world, and the Journal was the best damn paper to work for, and the cure for the ails of the industry was simple: write damn great stories.
On the day Wilke died, there were jokes that for an honest guy he had told more lies in the past six months than he did in his entire life: He would beat it, he’ll see you in the office (maybe even this afternoon!), he was feeling great, nothing to worry about.
Towards the end, there was a scramble of friends and colleagues and admirers angling to get in to see Wilke for one more visit, one more laugh, one more pint. Again, he was lucky: he was with the people that mattered to him most.
Wilke and I used to split cabs home after drinks on any number of work nights. He liked to talk about his family, how he and Nancy were “madly in love” after all these years, how he’d refer to Jackson affectionately as “the long-hair who lives with me,” and how he was awed by Robin’s bright mind and all the possibilities that lie ahead for his kids.
He was a force in the newsroom. If papers rely on esprit de corps, Wilke was Team Captain. He was generous with praise and tips and ideas. (“------ was looking for you—has a hot tip about an endorsement for Obama. Call asap,” he wrote in one Feb. 2008 e-mail.)
He wanted to know what you were working on (though he rarely tipped his own hand.) He was a brute force of optimism. “In difficult times, the best thing to do is focus on your work and have fun with it. For what it’s worth, I am glad you are here,” he wrote in a 2007 e-mail. Wilke always made me glad to be here.
All were welcome at his table, and everyone was a friend, or a friend in the making. As so many of his sources would learn, there was no saying “no” to Wilke, not on a story, and certainly not on a quick pint. “You buying me a beer tonight?” I e-mailed him on Dec. 4, 2007. “The answer to that question will always be ‘Yes,’” He replied.
Wilke's death is a profound loss for the Journal, and for journalism, and for his family, who he loved so much. I hope there is comfort in knowing that he meant so much, to so many.
His time with us was too brief, but his days were fully lived. Yes, Wilke was a lucky guy. And I was lucky to know him.