Class of 1968
Henry Gilgoff was an award-winning consumer affairs reporter and columnist for Newsday. Like many journalists, he got his start on student publications, in high school and in college. Unlike most, he made his professional debut on a remote piece of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Gilgoff was born in Brooklyn on May 21, 1945. He attended William Howard Taft High School and was managing editor of The Taft Review. Even then, he showed promise as a crusading journalist when he won a High School Headliners award for a piece on censorship when “Catcher in the Rye” was being banned from school libraries. He also met a student named Alice Kottek, who was the features editor of The Taft Review. By the time they both enrolled at City College, their relationship had blossomed into a romance. Their attachment to journalism also continued to bloom. Both were on staff at The Campus, each became its editor-in-chief. They got married the day after they graduated, thus fulfilling a promise to the bride’s mother that they would not wed until completing their college educations.
In 1967, shortly after both those occasions, the Gilgoffs joined the Peace Corps. They were assigned to a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean that is now part of the Federated States of Micronesia. It was called Truk Lagoon. A little over 20 years earlier, during World War II, Truk (now known as Chuuk), was part of the Japanese empire and the scene of a major battle in 1944. The waters in the lagoon became a graveyard of Japanese naval vessels. When the Gilgoffs arrived, Truk had no plumbing, no electricity — and no form of journalism. Enter Truk’s first newspaper. It was called Met Poraus, Truk for “what’s new.” Produced by the Gilgoffs on a mimeograph machine, it was the basis of a daily news digest broadcast on Truk’s only radio station.
|Henry and Alice, with the Peace Corps on Truk|
Just before they left for Truk, Gilgoff got word from City College that he was a few credits shy of a degree. That was later found to be erroneous. Gilgoff not only got his degree, but managed to talk the administration into giving him additional foreign-language credits. He might very well be the only CCNY graduate with three credits in Trukese.
When the Gilgoffs returned to the United States, in 1969, Alice pursued a career as a midwife and an author focusing on maternal child health, and Henry was hired by Newsday. He quickly developed a reputation as a dogged reporter who patiently sifted the fine print of product warranties, insurance claims and legal documents and then challenged companies about their own policies. He wrote hundreds of columns about everything from lost luggage to the travails of a family whose house, which had been converted to natural gas over a decade earlier, was flooded with more than 200 gallons of heating oil because of a botched delivery. A gentle, gracious man whose intellectual interests were as broad as his smile, he was enormously helpful to other reporters, sharing contacts and providing context to the beat
|Interviewing Arthur Schlesinger Jr. for The
Campus, 1966. The photo is by Frank Van Riper,
a Campus staffer and a Hall of Famer.
he covered for so many years.
In 2006, shortly before his death, a piece he worked on concerning identity theft won an award from the Press Club of Long Island, an affiliate of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Gilgoff died of amyloidosis, a rare liver disorder, on July 30, 2006. He was 61. His final column for Newsday, published the year he died, was addressed to his readers. It is a measure of the way he felt about other people that it included this line: “I want you to know that all along, I’ve enjoyed your company.”