By Jen Gerson
Ryerson journalism professor Jerry Gladman is dying. He has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The progressive neurological illness will likely kill him within two to five years.
Gladman, who taught first-year print journalism for the last four years, has written a four-part series about his struggle published this week in the Toronto Sun.
“I know full well this will be the last large story I produce,” he wrote in Nov. 2’s Sun.
“It’s really a special piece of journalism…It’s the story of his life,” said John Miller who called the Sun hypocritical for claiming Gladman as ‘their writer’ after laying him off.
“I find writing an outlet for different things in my life. In this case I believed the public has so little understanding of what people go through this disease. I felt a responsibility to others who don’t have the same forum as I do…Also, it’s therapeutic,” said Gladman via email.
Gladman began showing symptoms in June 2002. He lost the ability to speak clearly. At first he mistook the illness for a stroke and continued to teach. He said the twitching was like having a bag of worms under his skin. Eventually Gladman’s muscles weakened until he couldn’t function normally.
As his speech deteriorated, Gladman would type up his lectures, stories, anecdotes and useful tips for new journalists have members of the class read them.
“He went downhill very rapidly,” said Vince Carlin, the chair of journalism. Gladman used to tell Carlin about how brilliant his students were.
“He really enjoyed his teaching,” said Carlin.
“He truly has been an inspiration to a lot of people because he made people believe in themselves,” said Anne-Marie Sweeney, a former student of Gladman’s.
Gladman took up teaching at Ryerson after he was fired by the Sun several years ago. He was soon hired again on a contract to write book reviews and obituaries — Gladman’s specialty.
Now in his 60’s, he juggled his job at the sun with his news reporting class. He loved teaching so much he planned to take early retirement and teach full-time.
But his condition worsened and Gladman was forced to leave mid year.
To deal with his ALS, Gladman’s wife cares for him and the family has had to renovate the house. Sweeney has organized a fundraising campaign and asked students to donate money to help Gladman and his family cope with the cost of the disease.
Part four of Gladman’s series runs Wednesday in the Sun.