The Chesapeake Bay lost a good friend last weekend.
Scott Harper, 51, the longtime environmental reporter for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, died after a long battle of pancreatic cancer. He had been a reporter at the Virginian-Pilot for 17 years. Before that, he worked at the Annapolis Capital on all manner of stories, becoming a Pulitzer finalist for a story on Naval Academy hazing in 1991.
He leaves behind a wife and three children, the oldest of whom is in his first year of college.
I did not know Scott that well, but was always glad to see him. Journalism attracts some wonderful people – smart, inquisitive folks who are unafraid to ask tough questions and are willing to lend a pen or pass along a tip. It also attracts some people you’d rather not spend time with – conceited blowhards who love to hear themselves talk and think nothing of trampling over you to get their questions answered first.
The Chesapeake Bay press corps has always seemed to attract the first type. That’s a good thing. At times all of us are sardined onto a boat, stuck for hours with nothing but the cold air, a few politicians or biologists, and each other. When you’re out watching a biologist pull up an oyster dredge for the 50th time, it’s nice to have something else to talk about. And it was at those times I was most glad to see Scott, who always had a lot to say about what was going on in the part of the Chesapeake he covered.
Among the stories he uncovered: Ghost ships in the James; financial shenanigans at the Southeast Public Service Authority; and logging in popular state forests. You can read more about all of them in this thoughtful obituary his newspaper ran.
I was particularly impressed with his rich reporting on the activities in the Norfolk Port, notably on the Elizabeth River.
Scott was a tough reporter, but he never stopped being likable, even to the people he covered. It is the mark of someone truly good at what they do that, when they expose truths you would rather not be known, you still like them. I know I strive to be that way, but I don’t think I succeed as much as he did.
I hope the Pilot will put someone new on the beat. I look forward to meeting him or her the next time we’re all in a huddle on a boat, headed out to sea. But Scott Harper can never be replaced – not to the people he covered, not to the ones who admired him and aspired to be more like him, and certainly not to the ones who knew him best.