Ford Burkhart’s bio

Ford N. Burkhart

I am a writer based in Tucson, Arizona.

I write for several sites and publications.  Since I’m now in my 70’s, I enjoy writing for AARP publications – here’s an AARP piece on former UA President Gene Sander.

I wrote a lively tale for AARP on Jack Vaughn, the former prize-fighter and Peace Corps director.  And a piece on the older heroes of Jan. 8, 2011, the day Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot.



I write about science and technology for various publications. Here’s one from the SPIE site:

I write for the UA Alumnus magazine – from profiles, including UA President Shelton ( to the new football coach, Rich Rod, ( to the economic recovery (

I write for Research Corporation, describing research in fields like astrophysics or nanoscience and have written profiles of top scientists for organizations like the BIO5 Institute.

At the New York Times, I wrote science obituaries for Science Times while I was a staff editor at the Foreign Desk for most of my 11 years through 2007. I wrote for the Health Watch column and for the television magazine. I edited coverage of global science and medical issues like AIDS and climate change.

I have a Ph.D. in public administration from ASU, an MA in communications from Stanford, and a BA in history and in journalism from the University of Arizona.

Here’s my resume, in brief:

Freelance writer, 1964 to date.  Focus on science, medicine and technology.

New York Times, staff editor on Foreign, Bizday, Metro, National, Travel and Editorial Pages. 1996 to 2007.  For several years I was the Foreign Desk’s late slot, closing the pages at 3 a.m. I helped edit several projects that won Pulitzer Prizes.

Journalism professor, University of Arizona, 1976 to 1996.

Los Angeles Times staff editor, Foreign Desk, summers while at the University of Arizona.

Associated Press political writer, supervisor of the Foreign Desk, U.N. writer, 1969 to1976.

U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia, 1967 to 1969.

Miami Herald, bureau chief and reporter. 1964 to 1967.

Those are the highlights. Extras include a small slice of a Times Pulitzer Prize as a writer of Portraits of Grief and other parts of the 9/11 package nominated for 2001.

I have had three Fulbright awards to teach journalism to midcareer and college journalists, in Nigeria, Uganda, Singapore and Malaysia. I received an Asia Foundation grant for midcareer journalism training in Mongolia and other grants for lecturing in Thailand, Bangladesh, Lesotho and Zambia. I was head of the journalism programs at the University of Jos, Nigeria; Makerere University in Uganda; and the American University in Cairo for two years.

Personal: Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1942. Moved to Tucson in 1946. Attended Roskruge Junior High, Tucson High and Catalina High. Enjoy working on a 1917 Craftsman style house in West University. (January 2012)

You can see links to some of my work at my web page:

The Traub obit: I particularly enjoyed writing this routine science obit for Science Times. It may have been my best work while writing for Science Times at the NY Times, because it was just a routine story, done on deadline, with a good last paragraph.  I hope you enjoy it.

Robert Traub, a Medical Entomologist,

Is Dead at 80

By Ford Burkhart

c. The New York Times

Robert Traub, a medical entomologist who compared fleas from distant times and places and saw in them clues to the mysteries of evolution and continental drift, died on Dec. 21 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was 80 and lived in Bethesda.

The cause was prostate cancer and diabetes, family members said.

Working in the rain forests of Asia for the United States Army, Dr. Traub sought ways to help soldiers avoid diseases borne by chiggers and other insects. In the 1950’s he commanded the Army’s research laboratory in Kuala Lumpur, in what is now Malaysia. He let chiggers bite him so he could contract typhus to test an experimental cure. The cure worked. He retired as a colonel in 1962 and joined the University of Maryland.

Dr. Traub was so devoted to the fleas that he amassed one of the world’s two best collections of them, said his frequent collaborator, Miriam Rothschild of Peterborough, England, who is a noted flea authority herself and oversees the world’s other great flea archive, at the Natural History Museum in London. Dr. Traub and Ms. Rothschild together wrote a definitive work, ”The Rothschild Collection of Fleas: The Ceratophyllidae” (Cambridge University Press, 1983).

By looking at the microscopic differences between a flea from Tasmania and a cousin from Capetown, South Africa, or Tierra del Fuego, Dr. Traub developed a theory of how each of the 2,200 species of fleas evolved, each along with its own animal or bird host, over about 125 million years. In fleas, most of them about the size of a small grain of rice, Dr. Traub saw how continents had drifted apart, an idea that was later confirmed by geologists.

”He could look at one of those little critters and know if it was from a bird, a squirrel or what,” said Charles Wisseman, a former professor in microbiology at the University of Maryland. ”He knew the links to the environment, to ecology and, in the end, to evolution.”

By looking at the hair-grabbing spines on a flea through a microscope, Dr. Traub could find clues to the weather or the forests in its environment, even millions of years ago for an old specimen, colleagues said.

Even in his final years, when he was going blind from diabetes, Dr. Traub continued his research. He had just finished a textbook chapter to be published this summer, written with Dr. Lance Durden of Georgia Southern University.

Dr. Traub was named honorary curator of fleas for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington on his retirement from teaching at Maryland.

Robert Traub was born in Manhattan, received a B.S. in biology from City College in 1938, an M.S. in medical entomology from Cornell in 1939, and, after service in the Army, a doctorate in the same field from the University of Illinois in 1947.  From 1962 to 1983, he was a professor of medical microbiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Renee; a son, Dr. Roger D. Traub, of Ossining, N.Y., four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

His son said that his father was a genuine eccentric and in Bethesda collected such things as ivory and blowguns, as well as fleas, and would return from a field trip with an orangutan or gibbon for the National Zoo in Washington.

In his basement at his death, he had 200 unknown types of fleas in storage, awaiting study and description.


Below are several items published in the NYT post 9/11. I will try to post them separately on this WordPress site as I become more familiar with the technology:

Here are some sketches from the 9/11 package A Nation Challenged:

The Red Jeep item began a “From the Notebook and the Heart” column, part of The New York Times’ A Nation Challenged section that ran after 9/11. Simple and short is sometimes best:


Sitting, Waiting For a Job to End

This story is about a red Jeep. It has no ending, not yet.

The Jeep pulled up to Liberty Marina just after we had secured our 25-foot sailboat, after a perfect morning had turned perfectly horrendous.

”You have a boat,” said the Jeep’s driver, a young man in a black T-shirt.

”Why?” we asked.

”I’m a firefighter, Great Jones Street, and I need to join my company,” he replied, out of breath. ”I got caught in New Jersey on my day off.”

The harbor was closed, we explained. But I offered to drive him along the river edge, through the police barricades with his badge flashing out the window, until we could find a boat bringing walking wounded from New York that would take him back.

We found one at the main square in Jersey City. He jumped out and went off, ran off, to the boat, to fight a fire in which we knew firefighters had already been killed. We just knew.

He didn’t come back that night. One of us watched his car the next day. And the next. The story has no ending. But we will keep watching the red Jeep and trusting that he will return when his work is done.

September 16, 2001


Portraits of Grief

Here are a few profiles I wrote about 9/11 victims as part of The New York Times’ Portraits of Grief project.  For these articles, a team member would be assigned a name and often would know almost nothing else about the victim. We had a few hours or a day to research and write.

= = =

(This piece evokes a fireman, any fireman: bunker pants, yellow-striped coat, seven bells, and Ladder 110. Those color touches carry the piece and, I hope, make it compelling.)


Mentor to Many

In every firehouse in New York, somebody like Paul T. Mitchell takes the probies under his wing, nurturing them and giving them just enough grief to make sure they can endure. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, at the Tillary Street firehouse, Big Daddy Mitchell taught everything: how to jump in when trouble calls, what to grab when you hear seven bells — the code sending Ladder 110 on a run.

Lieutenant Mitchell, 46, was someone the first-year probationers looked up to. Senior man on the truck, on the back step as a fireman, in the front seat after his promotion to lieutenant. He would go in with the inside team: the guys who cut through doors, looking for people needing help. That’s the kind of guy they remember on Tillary Street: husband of Maureen; a sports fan if daughter Jennifer, 20, or Christine, 18, was competing; holder of three citations for valor.

But on Sept. 11, the truck rolled without him.

Off duty, he had stopped by for coffee around 8 a.m. When seven bells rang and the truck left, he soon realized it was trouble, the worst.

Without thinking, he grabbed somebody else’s bunker pants, black coat with the yellow stripes, boots, helmet. And he was rolling, too.

Dec. 30, 2001


(When I began my calls for the next piece, I didn’t know Bobbi had been the first person to die on Sept. 11, at work, on Flight 11.  I thought it best not to include that. It would distract from a story about a person, her work, her life. Then, you often want the last sentence, and sometimes the last word, to make a point. It’s called a kicker. Some are loud and splashy. This one is quiet. Getting something for a kicker takes careful, patient interviewing, asking for examples, then listening or observing.)


 Taking Time to Relax

Far from Manhattan’s twin towers, far from just about anywhere, she would stretch out on the floor by a wood fire, with three cats and tea and a James Taylor album going. There, in the village of Marstons Mills on Cape Cod, Barbara Jean Arestegui could collect herself, after her three days on duty as a flight attendant for American Airlines.

Bobbi Arestegui, 38, an attendant for 13 years, knew one thing well: how to relax.

On the Cape, she gathered the strength that made her the usual choice to handle any problem passenger. Ms. Arestegui, at a disarming 5-foot-3, could sit next to an overwrought traveler and listen for hours.

On Sept. 11, she was up and out of the house at 3:30 a.m. to be ready to attend to the passengers on Flight 11. In Boston, she reported in at 6:30 for the departure from Logan International Airport. Flight 11 took off right on time, at 7:59.

Later that week, her longtime companion, Wayne Nichols, found among her things a folder she had kept hidden, filled with notes from passengers over the years. One, on the back of a receipt and dated Aug. 13, said simply, ”Thanks for the service.”

Sept. 9, 2002


(I can still hear the accents of the Bronx from my interviews.  I knew right away I had to included a bit of that accent. The Bob Marley song was an extra gift.)


Dispenser of Joy

With a shake of a shoulder and a laugh, Pops could lift just about any spirit, in the Edenwald section of the Bronx or back home in Kingston, Jamaica. He would share a reggae song with his 12 godchildren, or with friends at the D&B Auto Repair and Diagnostic Center over a beer and a fish. His laughter even warmed 2 World Trade Center, where on the 85th floor he last practiced the drywaller’s art.

Many in his wide circle never knew his name was Derrick Arthur Green. It was just Pops, the 44-year-old man whose reply to anger was to smile and say, in properly clipped Jamaican English, ”Just leave that out, mon. Come, let’s go.” The next minute everyone was smiling.

He laughed away the rough patches of 10 immigrant years courting his wife, Melrose, settling in enough to marry in 1995 and make a life for them on Amundson Avenue. Weekend evenings, on visits with the family of his ”second mother” — Cynthia Edwards, an old friend from his Jamaica days — he was likely at some point to jump up from his chair and, along with a favorite Bob Marley tape, sing: ”One love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel all right.” And they always did.

April 7, 2002

(The kicker on this one still gives me chills. It popped up when I asked about her daughter about Abigail’s music. Ask for the details, like the neighborhood, Bushwick.)


Bible Stories and Dinner

Picture the children of Bushwick, Brooklyn, hundreds of them, speaking several languages, filling little chairs, singing of love and God’s mercy. It’s 10 a.m. at the Saturday children’s ministry.

More songs, and prayers, and Bible stories. A woman moves among the young and restless, giving them treats to keep them quiet and attentive. She soldiers on, through all three preschool sessions, long past twilight.

By 6 p.m. a now weary Abigail Medina, 46, would make the eight-block journey from Metro International Church on Evergreen Avenue to her home on Jefferson, to cook: ”Arroz con gandules; that’s yellow rice and pigeon peas. Served with pork — we call it pernil. Hey, we are Puerto Rican,” says Mrs. Medina’s daughter, Enid Marie, 18, who, along with her sister, Amy, 14, and father, Eli, constituted the other focus of Mrs. Medina’s life. Such Saturdays, even more than the Sunday services, were the happiest moments in her week, Enid Marie remembered.

Mrs. Medina’s life in Bushwick was blessedly far from the pace of Wall Street, where she worked at Guy Carpenter reinsurance brokerage on the 94th floor of 1 World Trade Center. What helped her through many workdays were hymns, and one that she especially loved, Enid Marie said, starting to hum: ”I am running to the mercy seat, where Jesus is calling.”

Dec. 15,  2001

(This sketch was a pleasure to report and write. The survivors were enthusiastic about telling Joe’s story. The style tried for the offbeat, snappy tone of the people who spoke about him.)


From A.& P. to Wall Street

Hey, tell the guys in Bensonhurst: Joe’s horse came in first at Freehold the other day.

Yeah, the same Joseph Plumitallo who used to be the stock boy at the Stillwell Avenue A.&P., where at 17 he caught the eye of Doreen Manno, 16, the meat wrapper. Got married and lived in a room in his parents’ house on Lake Street. Talked his way into a bottom-rung job on Wall Street. Rode the F train to his future, as a Cantor Fitzgerald bond broker. Went from a polyester suit at the 1976 Lafayette High prom to wearing pinstripes, buying a few horses, and, at 45, treating clients to Super Bowls.

He was quite a talker. He would start that story of how Ms. Manno nodded off after one drink on a date at Dangerfield’s, slept through dinner, dessert, ”the whole show, asleep” and — here’s where his smile would widen, eyes locked on Ms. Manno’s, for the punch line — ”in the ladies’ room.” And so many other stories.

Dressed impeccably, he would take his daughters, Genna, 11, and Lisa, 9, in new white outfits, to the hometown Father-Daughter Dance in Manalapan, N.J. He would drive his son, Joseph Jr., 5, over to the stable at Gaitway Farm on a Saturday to watch his favorite, El Diablo, get ready to race.

Are Diablo and the others still racing? You bet. It was Genna’s wish, and Lisa’s, and Joe Jr.’s. And you have to believe it would have been Joe’s.

Dec. 11, 2001

(For this sketch, I talked to several family members and decided on a straight-ahead approach. Nothing fancy. But the family gave me details for those first two sentences that give it spark.)


A Soft Spot for Snow

When the snow comes, the real stuff, deep enough to keep most Staten Islanders indoors, the hardy few on skis or sleighs in the hills of LaTourette Park will remember a joyful Jeannine M. LaVerde on her sled. Her dream, she said, was to tackle some real snow, Alaska. She was fearless, her Aunt Janet recalls. Her response to the fiercest of snowstorms was to trudge out to take somebody fresh bread and milk.

Ms. LaVerde drew on her courage last year to take a tougher job, in new accounts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, on the 89th floor of 2 World Trade Center. So high, her mother-in-law fretted. ”Don’t worry,” replied Ms. LaVerde, 36. ”I can run down the stairs. Any problem, I’m out of there.”

She had a son, Christopher Sodano, 10. The whole family would gather each Labor Day at Daniels, a Poconos resort, where she would cheer as Christopher socked home runs on the softball diamond. When he took home this year’s batting trophy, she pronounced the vacation ”the best ever.”

Then, back to work.

Dec. 10, 2001

(These details were tough to get. Had to pry a few out of her husband, question by question. He was glad to share them once he got going. Some days writing can be hard work, but you always do your best, keep digging, then tell the story as well as you can.)


On-the-Money Instincts

At 24, Dianne Gladstone, the meticulous young tax official, followed her romantic instincts. She would marry this fellow who had offered — on a blind date no less — a pricey dinner at Maxwell’s Plum, in Manhattan’s archetypal 1970’s singles spot. A year later, she was a Mrs.

And as in her public life — 37 years at the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance — her instincts were right on the money. She and Herb Gladstone, a crane operator, skied, hit the Broadway shows, traveled. Each year they celebrated the holidays at the Queensboro Hill Jewish Center, where they were married, and then it was off to the Caribbean.

Even at home, she was, ”organized, maybe too organized,” Mr. Gladstone recalled. In their Forest Hills home she had tax files going back to when they had met, he said, recalling her fondness for her tax work as section chief in Tower Two, 86th floor.

Yet in her favorite photo, on the beach at Provincetown at sunset last Labor Day, Dianne Gladstone, at 55, looked as happy as Mr. Gladstone could ever remember, perhaps because her thoughts were far away from tax codes, the paper shredder and the job she treasured. She had decided to retire — to their new house, near the water, on the north fork of Long Island. The moving date was next April.

Dec. 4, 2001


(This portrait is all about the details. The sausage, pork and beef do the same job in the sauce as they do in this sketch. She’s a fairly typical person, but that, of course, is what can make an interesting snapshot.)

Work, Home, the Shore

Her life was a chain of places where they knew her, it seemed, forever.

There was Wall Street, where, after a day at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, where she was a trading assistant on the 89th floor of 2 World Trade Center, Cira Marie Patti knew the best Italian restaurant to go to and talk theater.

There was New Springville, in Staten Island, where she lived, not far from where she had been a choir girl at Holy Child Church and the baton twirler for the Marching 100 (she didn’t much like marching, so her father always put her on the float.)

And there was the Shore, always the Shore.

Summer weekends it was off to the big rental house at Bradley Beach, N.J., with Maura, Kathy, Pete and maybe a dozen others (her father, Michael Patti, lost count). Anchoring her evenings was the Columns, a Victorian place on Ocean Avenue in Avon-by-the-Sea, whose white Russians met her standards, and where she could dance or hold her own debating the merits of Giants or Yankees or Eric Clapton, all of whom she made part of her chain.

Holidays, it was in her parents’ kitchen, where, for nephew and nieces, sister and brothers, Aunt C.C. soared. Her pasta sauce was not just about garlic and tomatoes. Of course not. ”This was Italian sauce,” her father recalled. ”The spices, the sausage, pork, beef, meatballs. That was our Christmas Day.”


(end of FB bio)