Let's capture some of why we loved Wilke so much. As one friend of his put it:

"...write up an anecdote – some story where they watched Wilke build up into righteous anger when reporting a story... or ironing out a crease in the fabric of the Journal bureau... And someone should talk about him tearing up when he described taking his kid to college…..Or when he became nearly inconsolable when the anthrax story came back and cost him two fantastic seats at the Nats-Mets game. Describe a time he filled in for people, picked up their loads for them, counseled them, slipped them incredible sources, shared bylines... that will keep him alive and you (and the rest of us) afloat."

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Wilke the Mensch

So much has already been said – and written—about what a terrific reporter John Wilke was that you might think there's not that much to add. But there is. We investigative types tend to be cocky, smug and self righteous – immune to self-criticism and completely confident that we've got somebody nailed when, oftentimes, we really don't. That wasn't Wilke, not by a long shot.

I can remember two or three occasions over the years when he took me aside and solicited my thoughts on something he was working on. I was actually honored that he trusted me enough to do that, knowing that there was no way in hell I would ever burn him. But what really struck me was how he was wrestling with the amazing stuff he was uncovering. Did I think he had enough? Were there angles he was missing? Was he being fair? Those aren't questions that get asked enough in this business. But John asked them all the time. Then he would produce. And sure enough, he had the goods, totally and completely. Every angle was covered. His targets could howl all they wanted, but there was no way that anybody could read a Wilke story and conclude that he had cut any corners or wasn't being fair.

And yet – and this hardly needs saying to anybody who reads this site – John Wilke was a whole lot more than one of Washington's great journalists. I'm not sure the obits fully captured this. John loved life in ways that were infectious—the small things: a good beer, a good laugh, a good game (especially if the Red Sox won), the camaraderie of his comrades. A few days before he died, I stopped by the bar at Buck's to join Eric, Mary and Nick for a drink and to talk about John. At one point, he called Eric who immediately handed me the phone and told me to step outside. John had heard the news about Mary Ann (she had emailed Nancy the day before) and he wanted to congratulate us. He was wheezing, short of breath and could barely talk. But he also couldn't stop telling me how excited and thrilled and happy he was for both of us—throwing in for good measure a few words of fatherly advice. He couldn't wait to see us, as soon as he got better, he said. I knew that probably wasn't going to happen—and I'm sure he did too. I choked up; I was the one who had to cut the conversation short.

There's probably lots of words to describe our friend. But there is one that keeps coming to mind and it's the Yiddish one: mensch. You can look it up here: OR here

Or you can think and remember John Wilke, as we all will, and you'll know exactly what it means.

Michael Isikoff

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