We auto writers are seldom at a loss for words. Heck, we’re often paid by the word. But I think many of us, right now, are having trouble finding the right way to say farewell to Jerry Flint, who passed away of a stroke, this past weekend.
It would be tempting to go with a “just-the-facts, ma’am,” obituary. But, then again, Jerry was never one to stop with the basic facts and figures. It might be equally appealing to grab for a few obvious adjectives to describe a man who spent more than 50 years covering the auto beat. Opinionated is one that anyone who knew Jerry Flint would agree on. Curmudgeon is likely another.
But neither approach tells the full picture of a man who wasn’t just the “dean” of auto writers, as his journalist son, Joe Flint, suggests. For all his talents, as well as his flaws, Jerry Flint fell somewhere between conscience and contrarian. He accepted no easy answers and didn’t tolerate them from friend or foe, industry leader or media colleague. It is that role, along with his wit and wisdom, his bawdy asides – and the encouragement he offered me routinely over the 30 years I can count him as a friend that I will personally miss.
It’s tempting to suggest that Jerry Flint was born to cover the auto industry. A Detroit native, he grew up in what he described as a “workers hillbilly neighborhood.” Detroit had been a boom town, but by the time Flint was born, on June 20, 1931, it was deep into the Great Depression, and the Flint family would walk, rather than ride the streetcars, to save a few nickels. When it came time to go to college, he didn’t stray far, enrolling at Wayne State University, which was then Detroit’s city college.