By Zach Dennis
October 19, 2022
Reprinted with permission from the Savannah Morning News.
One thing to know about Jane Fishman: she LOVED compost.
“Everybody remembers her for her gardening… but she told me once that really what she loved was compost, and she would be quite happy just making compost all the time, instead,” remembered longtime friend, colleague and neighbor Mary Landers.
The essence of compost is gathering and mixing ingredients together to improve the soil and leave the plants more nourished. For decades, Jane Fishman did the same and nourished the Savannah community with her writing, personality and spirit.
On Sunday, Fishman died after a battle with cancer. She was 78.
Carmela Aliffi said Fishman immediately fell in love with Savannah when she came to town after accepting a job at the Savannah Morning News in 1989. "She immediately fell in with some great people like Betsy Cain and Alvin Neely...through her writing (she met) all kinds of people," she said.
"She's one of those people who can make you laugh and cry in the same column and she introduced Savannah to many people."
In a turn that would make Fishman chuckle, Landers remembers coming into the Savannah Morning News newsroom after she started and thinking of Jane as “one of the cool kids” in the back of the newsroom with the other arts reporters. “I never thought I’d get to be friends with one of the cool kids so I was thrilled when I did,” Landers said.
“She wasn’t in the office that much — she was out and about.”
Landers remembers Jane’s love for little black dogs. “When I first started at the paper, she had Patches, and then Patches died and she had Charlie for a long time. And now she had Sweetie. In September, she called one day or Carmela (her wife) called and she, Jane and I discussed how Sweetie needed to have a backstory so we decided that Sweetie was actually Sweetie Schwartz and had this whole history,” Landers said.
Local author and writer Jessica Leigh Lebos remembers meeting Fishman for the first time. Lebos had just moved to Savannah and had been a newspaper columnist back in California. Her mother-in-law immediately brought her to the synagogue to meet Fishman because she was so excited that she knew another female, Jewish newspaper columnist.
“I remember telling Jane that story years later and she was like, ‘What was I doing at synagogue?’” Lebos said with a chuckle. That blunt response was indicative of what you could expect from Jane.
“Jane was always honest, always fair and always funny,” Lebos added.
She was all three things for Savannah for decades in her writing, which appeared most recently (and off-and-on) in the Savannah Morning News. “She was the kind of reporter who was always interested in the small stories that make up a community’s life and she made those come alive,” Landers said.
“You have a unique voice (in Jane Fishman) who has consistently documented and witnessed what Savannah was when she (first) got here…she kept that perspective all the way through,” Lebos said. “This wry perspective about Savannah from somebody who really loved it, but knew exactly where we live –– there was none of this rah rah cheerleading. Is this the best place in the entire world? She examined its faults and its filth, and was not afraid to do that. But she also not only considered the beauty, but created it as well with her gardens and her words.”
Aliffi, Jane's wife, agreed. "She could always really evoke emotion in the people that she touched, the stories she told. She liked to go for the smallest stories, the people who weren't in the headlines. She really had that feeling that everyone had a story, if not many."
Fishman's passing leave a hole in the community, Landers said.
“Somebody will come along with their own unique ways (but) there will never be another Jane.”
Zach Dennis is the editor of the arts and culture section, and weekly Do Savannah alt-weekly publication at the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-239-7706.