James Podgers, retired ABA Journal editor, dies at 67
Funeral services took place in February for James Podgers, 67, a retired ABA Journal editor known for his deep knowledge of the American Bar Association and its inner workings. He died as this year’s ABA Midyear Meeting opened in Vancouver, British Columbia. Midyear and annual meetings were assignments he regularly covered during his years with the magazine.
Podgers died from islet cell neuroendocrine cancer, barely one year after his retirement. He had battled the cancer for 14 years, but that didn’t stop him from spending long days as an assistant managing editor sharpening copy and writing articles about two of his favorite topics: the association and international law.
Podgers’ wife, Cis Redmond, says her husband would have wanted his specific cancer diagnosis in his obituary. “He would complain bitterly that obits usually don’t include the cause of death; I laugh thinking of him wondering how this or that person died, and he didn’t even know them!” she adds.
Podgers interviewed a wide range of people in his work for the Journal. They included former President Gerald Ford, Telford Taylor (an attorney who assisted Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg tribunals), Bianca Jagger and numerous ABA presidents. While on assignment in London, he approached the podium after a speech by Margaret Thatcher and pilfered her paper clip, Redmond recalls.
He wrote about political divisions in the ABA, the Nuremberg trials, the creation of the International Criminal Court and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. His last article, written for the Journal as a freelancer, profiles a lawyer whose hobby is bullfighting.
“Jim was the picture of a classic Chicago journalist,” says Molly McDonough, ABA Journal editor and publisher. “He was inquisitive, dogged and skeptical.”
Podgers was “truly devoted to the craft,” McDonough says. “Jim was a good listener, a serious editor and maintained his dry sense of humor till the end. In my last conversation with him about a week before he died, Jim called me in part to let me know he wouldn’t be able to turn in his last assignment.
“He’ll always have a place in our hearts and ABA Journal lore.”
Podgers, a lawyer, worked for the ABA for 30 years in two different stints. He left the Journal after three years as a reporter and rejoined the staff in 1992 as an editor. He also worked as a reporter for the Herald-News in Joliet, Illinois, and as the assistant dean for public affairs at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a JD from Chicago-Kent.
‘HE LOVED THE ABA’
Podgers also had a love of travel, books, jazz, golf, friendly poker games and the Wisconsin Badgers. He was the lead saxophone player in a big band group and a charter member of FATS at UW-Madison.
FATS stands for Federation of All-Star Tummy Stuffers, Redmond says. Other members included a professor, a doctor, a priest, a radio personality and a comedian. “He collected interesting friends,” she says.
In a bereavement notice to ABA staffers, Reginald Davis, Journal managing editor, noted that Podgers was known for his “cogent questions”at the end of staffwide information sessions known as town hall meetings. Before his death, Podgers received an email about another staffer “who is bravely taking over his task of asking the questions at the town halls,” Redmond says. “We got a charge out of that. He loved the ABA.”
In addition to his wife, Podgers is survived by their children, Hilary, Kevin and Michael.
A selection of articles by James Podgers:
ABA Journal: “Attorney’s bullfighting dreams come true during his golden years”
ABA Journal: “Well Suited for the Job”
ABA Journal: “Remembering Nuremberg”
ABA Journal: “The World Cries for Justice”
ABA Journal: “The World of McElhaney: Jim McElhaney Closes the Book on a Storied Career, But Angus Lives on”
ABA Journal: “Greetings From ‘Independent’ Hawaii”