Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jim Sheeler

Jim Sheeler won the 2006 Pultizer Prize in feature writing for "Final Salute" and made a career of writing obituaries of ordinary people.

A brief anecdote in a Denver Post story about Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Sheeler describes how a new reporter was seated next to him in the newsroom of the Rocky Mountain News. When he introduced himself, all she could say in response was: “I’m not worthy.”

That little moment is especially noteworthy because every story Sheeler wrote is testament to the worth of everyone he wrote about, no matter their station in life. It also carries a painful irony: Sheeler made a high and reverent art of the simple obituary — and now his obituary is being written by fellow journalists who probably wonder if they can do justice to that assignment. One of the finest tributes so far was written by John Temple, Sheeler’s former editor at the Rocky, for the Colorado Sun. It reveals Sheeler’s journalistic superpowers, which were “extraordinary decency, humility and kindness.” There also is a fine piece in Poynter.org that spotlights Sheeler’s interviewing style.

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jim Sheeler

Jim Sheeler

Sheeler died a few days ago at his home in Ohio. Multiple news reports say no cause of death has yet been determined. He was 53.

Sheeler won the 2006 Pulitzer for feature writing for “Final Salute,” a 12,000-word narrative in which he and photographer Todd Heisler followed a Marine major whose job was to inform and support families of the death of loved ones killed in Iraq. Heisler won the Pulitzer for feature photographer for his work on that project, which then was expanded into an award-winning book of the same name.

In 2007, Sheeler published “Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives.” He was a contributor to “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.” His work was frequently taught in journalism and writing courses.

Sheeler was born in Texas. He earned a journalism degree from Colorado State University, then worked at the Boulder Daily Camera and the Rocky Mountain News. After the Rocky closed, he moved with his wife and son to Ohio, where he was an award-winning teacher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. His Twitter profile simply says “Still a reporter. Still learning.”

Further Reading