Amid our grief in the J. office over the death this week of reporter Rob Gloster, the staff recognized an absurd irony: The guy who in life insisted on disappearing behind the veil of journalistic anonymity is now the subject of a glowing tribute in the newspaper he served so well for the last three years.
Rob would hate all the fuss.
But he deserves to be honored and remembered as a man who spent his life chronicling the world around him and then, late in his career, training his sharp reporter’s eye on the Bay Area Jewish community.
“Rob was the consummate newsman,” said J. editor Sue Fishkoff. “For someone who did not suffer fools gladly, and who was unafraid to tackle the most difficult story or ornery interview subject, he was amazingly optimistic. He cared deeply about the people around him, and about the world in general.”
A probing questioner and a masterful prose stylist, Rob Gloster exemplified of the highest journalistic standards. He died April 9 of complications from a 2½-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 62.
In many respects, it wasn’t much of a battle. Cancer only won at the last minute. Throughout almost his entire illness, Rob refused to be sick or, as he told J. managing editor Sue Barnett, “I don’t want to be the cancer guy.” She recalls that during chemo treatments he would insist on working from the hospital because he was “just sitting there.”
He continued to travel the world, play cello in Bay Area community ensembles and treasure life with his wife, Sharon, and teenage daughters, Daniela, 16, and Talia, 19. Most tellingly, up to the end he continued to ply the trade he loved, writing compelling stories for J. and moonlighting as the sportswriter he had been for decades.
Well into his brutal chemotherapy regimen, Rob would ride his bike into the office from his Mountain View home (Caltrain took him part of the way). “He’d come in from one of those commutes, clearly in pain, and say, as a little aside, ‘Man, my fingers are pretty stiff after that ride,’” remembered J. online editor David A.M. Wilensky.
Rob filed his last piece of journalism for the Associated Press only two days before his death, after covering the April 7 Giants-Rays game in San Francisco.
“I will remember Rob as the most decent, hardworking, no-nonsense, dependable coworker I’ve ever had, no exaggeration,” added Wilensky. “He never let the team down. No assignment was beneath him, and no assignment was too big or complex for him to take. He was a fearless reporter.”
How fearless? Rob landed interviews with strident anti-Zionist activists such as SFSU professor Rahab Abdulhadi and UC Berkeley’s Hatem Bazian, figures who generally avoid the Jewish press.
Rob even waded into an interview with a rabid far-right anti-Semite running in last year’s primary election. In May 2018, he persuaded avowed white nationalist Patrick Little, who was running for California’s GOP Senate nomination, to sit for an interview.
Rob got Little to say on the record that Auschwitz was a country club, that the United States is “a Zionist-occupied government,” and that if he were in power he would fund Hezbollah.
That article is No. 10 on the J. website’s all-time most-popular list, tallying more than 18,000 hits.
Rob also has the 13th most popular article of all time, and it ran only last week: his cover story about Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has garnered nearly 12,000 hits.
It was Rob’s last story for J.
His very first professional assignment came in 1981 when, after graduating from Northwestern University with a journalism degree, the New York native was hired by a newspaper in Oklahoma, where he wrote obituaries.
Then he was hired by United Press International. Rob was assigned to UPI bureaus in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and then Europe, where he worked for UPI and, later, the Associated Press out of Barcelona, Paris and London. He mainly covered sports, including 11 Olympics, the NBA Finals, the World Series, and the U.S. Open, but he also covered political developments, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
“He knew he wanted to be a journalist ever since he saw Walter Cronkite announce John F. Kennedy’s death,” said Rob’s wife, Sharon Gloster.
Sharon recalled a good example of her husband’s whatever-it-takes approach to getting a story.
While in Russia to cover the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics for Bloomberg News, Rob sought an interview with Russian-born tennis star Maria Sharapova, but her security detail wouldn’t let journalists near her. Rob snuck into the locker room entrance, poked his head in the door, spied the athlete and started asking her questions.
“She was very polite and was talking to him, but the security guards pushed him away,” Sharon recalled. Later that day he was in a nearby restaurant and one of the guards came in and recognized him. The man was so impressed by his chutzpah that he bought Rob a drink. “He bought him drinks all night,” Sharon said, “and toasted him in front of everyone, in this heavy Russian accent: ‘To Rob!’”
Sharon and Rob met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1996. “We bonded over pingpong,” she said, recalling the spur-of-the-moment match they played that night. The couple made sure there was a pingpong table at their wedding two years later.
The Glosters were not stay-at-home types. The family, especially Rob, had the travel bug; it was Rob’s goal to visit 100 countries. He made it to 85 when he took a side trip to Lithuania while covering the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival in Poland last summer. Rob and Sharon drove from Krakow to Gdansk to see the region where Sharon’s mother and grandmother had once lived. Then they drove to Lithuania.
According to Sharon, the wildest chance Rob took to expand his travel list came while he was covering the Olympics in Sochi and decided to walk across the border to Abkhazia, which was then a war zone.
Border guards stopped him and asked, “What are you doing here?” He told them he was just looking for a place to eat. The guards took Rob to the home of a local woman who prepared and sold hot meals. According to Sharon, she served some kind of “big fish.” Rob paid for his meal, then walked back across the border to Russia.
When Bloomberg closed its Bay Area sports bureau in 2015, Rob found himself out of a job. Though he had never worked in Jewish journalism, he applied for a position at J.
“Rob responded to an ad for a part-time copy editor in 2016 and came in for the standard test we give all applicants,” remembered Sue Barnett. “After he left, I looked it over, made a beeline for [Editor] Sue Fishkoff’s office and said, ‘Hire him immediately!’”
Rob fit in right away.
“What a writer,” added Sue Fishkoff. “Sportswriters are noted for being some of the best writers in the business, and he showed us why. His humor, his smarts, the way he turned a phrase — he made his stories sing.”
“When I first met Rob,” remembered staff writer Maya Mirsky, “he took me out for coffee — just us two reporters. Because he wanted to make sure that I could come to him with questions or even just when I needed to vent. That meant a lot to me, and since that first talk, every time he was in the office I made my way over to his desk. I’d perch on the edge and he’d lean back in the swivel chair and we’d talk.”
For a time, Rob served as J.’s news editor, but later became senior writer. As a reporter, he could write authoritatively about anything.
He covered the tumultuous anti-Zionist activity on Bay Area college campuses. He wrote about the aftermath of the 2017 Tubbs Fire, which devastated Santa Rosa and incinerated URJ Camp Newman. And he headed to Chico last December after the equally destructive Camp Fire consumed the town of Paradise.
He wasn’t only assigned to haters and disasters. Rob wrote sports-related stories for J., about U.S. basketball players who found work in Israel, local Jewish sportscasters and the Maccabi Games. He also had a flair for the arts, frequently interviewing musicians, actors, playwrights and artists.
His artistic flair wasn’t only literary. Rob was an accomplished cellist, playing with the Peninsula Symphony as well as in pit orchestras of local theater productions, most recently last month in a 10-performance run of a children’s theater production of “Shrek.”
“He always said he wasn’t naturally talented,” said daughter Talia, a student at UCLA. “He had to work at it. That’s the example I had growing up. You work at something until you’re where you want to be. I remember when I was in school, falling asleep to the sound of him practicing his cello late at night, playing the same thing over and over again until he got it right.”
For the J. newsroom staff, Rob will be sorely missed.
“Maybe he never made it to 100 countries,” said Maya. “But even though I only knew him through work, it was clear to me that Rob Gloster was more than good at his job — he was good at living.”
Rob Gloster is survived by his wife, Sharon, of Mountain View, daughters Talia and Daniela, and sister Sue D’Ver and mother Muriel Gloster, both of New York. Donations can be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.