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Remembering Mary Jane Fisher

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I was traveling out West when I got a call from Mary Jane Fisher’s daughter telling me that her mom had passed away at the age of 90 in her sleep on Sept. 14.

Anyone who was a reader before the millennium will remember Mary Jane’s reporting from Washington. It was authoritative, accurate and could often get under the skin of those who were being reported upon. But such is the life of a journalist and such was Mary Jane’s career.

Mary Jane kept her age a secret, so I didn’t know until her daughter called me that Mary Jane was 83 when she retired from her career here.

We developed a close bond in the years we worked together and I would love it when I had the opportunity to visit D.C. for a meeting. I always made sure I had dinner with Mary Jane and we would have a great time at places like the Occidental or Maison Blanche. She liked to eat and drink well and so do I, so that was one thing that brought us together.

We were also in sync politically, two liberals covering a predominately conservative business. We loved talking politics and politicians. But whatever Mary Jane’s politics, they never interfered with her fair and impartial coverage of events and legislation on the Hill–no matter which direction those events took.

She was a grand lady and I’ve missed her since she retired back in the late summer of 2001. I’ll always remember her with love and fondness and will always consider it my privilege to have worked with her.

The following is part of what I wrote in the Aug. 13, 2001 issue. It was true then and can stand as the obituary of one of the finest comrades I’ve had in my career:

It was over a quarter-century ago that Mary Jane began reporting for NU on insurance activities in the nation’s capital. Since that time, her name has become familiar as a reporter who could be trusted to get the story–and always get it right.

Actually, Mary Jane had been involved in journalism for many years before joining NU. A native of Seattle, she majored in journalism at the University of Washington. Her first job out of college was as a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

During World War II, Mary Jane served for three years in the Navy as a WAVE officer. After the war she accompanied her husband to Paris, where among other things she became friends with Alice B. Toklas, who also hailed from Seattle.

On returning to the U.S., Mary Jane put aside her career to raise twins. On returning to the workforce, she did freelance public relations until she was hired by the National Symphony as publicity director.

It was in 1970 that Mary Jane started reporting on insurance for the Washington Insurance Newsletter. Here, among other things, she covered the months-long gestation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

While she is well-known on both the life & health and property & casualty sides of the business, in recent years Mary Jane has focused on covering major health insurance developments in Congress from the Clinton health plan to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to the still-smoldering battle over a patients’ bill of rights.

In addition to being a terrific reporter, Mary Jane is, as anyone who has met her can attest, a wonderfully warm woman with a wide range of interests.

Mary Jane’s work has added immeasurably to the esteem in which National Underwriter is held in the insurance community. While we are going to miss her and her weekly stories from D.C., her contribution over the past 25 years will be a shining source of inspiration for all of us here at NU in the years to come.


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