Jewish Pittsburgh said goodbye to beloved Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter and columnist Sally Kalson on Monday, paying tribute to a legendary and singular woman whose voice resonated in print and song. More than 500 people attended the funeral service at Congregation Dor Hadash in Squirrel Hill.
Kalson was 63 and died Sept. 26 from complications of ovarian cancer.
A graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School in 1968, Kalson attended the University of Pittsburgh. During her senior year at Pitt, she took a job at The Jewish Chronicle to work on community news and social matters.
During her three and a half years at the paper, her role expanded, said Joel Roteman, the then editor of The Chronicle. “You could trust her with any kind of story; she was really good. She had a lot of determination, a lot of grit.”
Kalson was well liked by her colleagues. Because of her curly hair, she was affectionately called “Frieda” after the character in the “Peanuts” comic strip. Roteman also remembered Kalson singing in the office.
“She had a pleasant voice,” he said.
While others at the newspaper referred to Roteman as “Joel,” Kalson unprecedentedly used to call her former editor “Joelsie.”
“She was the only one who ever did that,” Roteman fondly remarked.
After leaving The Chronicle, Kalson served as public relations director for Tri-State Israel Bonds as well as wrote for and edited several publications.
In 1984, Kalson began writing for the Post-Gazette. During her two decades there, Kalson covered politics and contemporary issues. Her weekly column, which began in 1988, was celebrated for its clarity, wit and poignant barbs.
With no target unreachable, Kalson employed her words as a barrage against patrons of injustice.
In a 2011 column titled, “I’ll bargain with God, but not Jeffrey Romoff, for my life,” Kalson detailed the pangs of chemotherapy. With the then possibility that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center would restrict her and other Highmark Insurance cancer patients from accessing UPMC physicians and medical services, Kalson vociferously excoriated UPMC’s president.
“I wonder if UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff would like to come down from his penthouse and inhabit my world for the next few months,” she wrote. “Maybe then he’d see the colossal folly of threatening to separate me and millions of others from affordable access to trusted medical providers when we’re already holding on by our fingernails. … I’ve grown accustomed to bargaining with God on the terms of extending my lifespan. But I refuse to bargain with Jeffrey Romoff, who is not God even if he thinks otherwise.”
Dan Leger, who officiated at Kalson’s funeral, remarked, “Sally knew that words, d’varim, have power.”
David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette, eulogized Kalson and claimed, “She wrote what Pittsburgh ought to think.”
Roteman praised Kalson’s writing but considered her more than a skilled practitioner, “She was a terrific journalist but a better person.”
Apart from her work at the Post-Gazette, Kalson was active in JFilm, the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum. She served on its volunteer committee for six years, the last two as its chair. Iris Samson, a member of JFilm’s Executive Committee, stated, “The same conviction and integrity she brought to her writing and work at the Post-Gazette, she brought to JFilm. She wasn’t afraid to address issues head on.”
Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of JFilm, called Kalson a “great leader” and someone who “cared very much about people.”
Kalson’s knack was not only in caring for others, but providing inspiration.
Judi Rosen, who joined Kalson and other Dor Hadash congregants on various musical ventures, remarked, “There is no question the kind of effect she left on people. She awakened people’s spirits.”
With her guitar, voice and ability to lyricize, Kalson entreated many Dor Hadash congregants to memorable holidays. Rabbi Doris Dyen, a member of the congregation, recalled Kalson participating in Sukkot and Chanukah musical gatherings.
At the funeral, in tribute to Kalson, Rosen, Gil DeBenedetti and Rob Kraftowitz performed, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season),” a song that Kalson had sung during a Dor Hadash Sukkot program.
Following the service, Lynn Cullen, the Pittsburgh-based radio talk show host, stated, “If Jewish Pittsburgh were to cast around for someone to represent us publically, you couldn’t find someone more perfect than Sally.”
“We’ll miss her voice and her spirit,” she said, “but her spirit stays with us. It’s for us to keep alive.”
Kalson is survived by her husband, Ed Feinstein of Squirrel Hill; her daughter, Zoe Feinstein of Pittsburgh; her mother, Edna Belle of Greenfield; and two brothers, David Kalson of Pittsburgh and Irwin Kalson of Frederick, Md.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.