Award-winning reporter John Gibeaut dies at 61
By Martha Neil
Oct 1, 2013, 12:00 am CST
John Gibeaut, an award-winning senior writer for the ABA Journal, has died of cancer. He was 61 years old.
A 1995 honors law graduate of Florida State University, he worked for well-known newspapers in that state and the storied City News Bureau of Chicago before earning his law degree. He then returned to Chicago to join the ABA Journal staff in 1996. One of the magazine’s top writers, Gibeaut was a colorful character known for calling it as he saw it and writing compelling stories about complex legal topics.
“John’s incisive voice on legal issues has long been a strength of the ABA Journal. He was a complex person and a genuine character, and his passion for journalism will be missed,” says Allen Pusey, the magazine’s editor and publisher.
Gibeaut’s writing was clear, succinct and powerful, wrote the American Society of Business Publication Editors when he won a Stephen Barr Award in 2005. “The judges were impressed ... with the writer’s success in ‘using characters to bring the stories to life without losing sight of the larger context.’ ”
Gibeaut died at a Chicago hospital of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease he had battled for years.
“He kept everything stirred up at home; he was kind of the rebel of all of us,” his sister, Janine Gibeaut, says about their childhood in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. This, she notes, was a benefit for his siblings, “because he kept the heat off of everyone else and we probably got away with more.”
Gibeaut did not attend college immediately after high school and worked as a house painter at one point, she says. His wide-ranging interests, in addition to journalism and the law, included music (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and blues musician Buddy Guy were among his favorites); bicycling Chicago’s lakefront; sports (he was a fan of both the Cubs and the White Sox); and the city’s art museums.
Although a hard-hitting journalist, Gibeaut “was a cream puff inside about certain things,” his sister says, and was a devoted uncle to his seven nieces and nephews and one great-nephew. “He did great with sending presents,” she says.
He could be counted on to take the kids on adventures when they visited him, such as jet-skiing and a memorable trip to check out Snooty the manatee at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. Later, when one of her sons was about to visit his uncle just after celebrating his 21st birthday, Gibeaut told his sister: “OK, good, he’s old enough to take to a bar.”
Kerry Klumpe, now the managing editor of the Brunswick News on the Georgia coast, hired Gibeaut in 1996 when Klumpe was serving as managing editor of the ABA Journal.
“John was everything I anticipated, and probably a little bit more,” Klumpe says, remembering Gibeaut for his unfailing enthusiasm and zealousness on the job and the well-researched, well-reported and well-written stories that resulted. A “very thoughtful” reporter and writer, Gibeaut knew how to ask critical questions, synthesize ideas and make connections that helped readers understand what was happening in the legal profession.
“John was one of those lovable throwbacks to another age in journalism,” Klumpe says. “There was a time before journalism became a lot of master’s degrees—and even lawyers—in journalism. People had sort of a common insight and a willingness to call things as they saw them. John had that, in a really refreshing way about him.”
Former ABA Journal editor and publisher Gary A. Hengstler says, “Every newsroom has its share of characters who intrigue us simply with the observations or pontifications that seem to be cruising through their brains at any given moment. John was such a person who could be entertaining, insightful and, if he felt like it, a little bit goofy. But his interesting personality aside, he was a solid reporter who knew when he had a story he needed to pursue. And in that professional persona, he was a bulldog who always gave us quality work.”
Gibeaut is survived by his mother, Virginia L. Gibeaut, who lives in Powell, Ohio, with Janine Gibeaut; and his brothers, David M. Gibeaut of Hood River, Ore., and James C. Gibeaut of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Services were held in August in Columbus, Ohio.
A selection of articles by John Gibeaut:
ABA Journal (2007): "Rough Justice"
ABA Journal (2010): "Grave Encounters"
ABAJournal (2010): "Hold that Tiger"
ABA Journal (2011): "After Philadelphia Prison Case, Many Still Weigh the Effects of Releasing Inmates"