MARGATE – A local man was among the journalists recognized by Time Magazine this week for its highest honor, the annual Person of the Year cover story.

Paul Gillespie, 48, a Margate native, narrowly escaped with his life during the mass shooting inside the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on June 28. Five people died and two more were injured during the attack.

Gillespie, an award-winning photojournalist at the paper, survived by hiding under his desk as the gunman walked past just several feet away, and making a run for it when the shooter briefly moved to a different part of the building.

“I’m humbled to be part of a great group of journalists selected …” Gillespie posted on his Facebook page. “I wish it did not take losing our five Guardians of the Truth.”

He mentioned each of the victims: Rob Hiaason, 59, assistant editor and Sunday columnist; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, who served the paper in various capacities including writer, editor, page designer and sportswriter; Rebecca Smith, 34, sales assistant; and Wendi Winters, 65, editor and community reporter.

Paul Gillespie, an award-winning photojournalist at the Capital Gazette, has ties to Ocean City, having worked on various local commercial and editorial photography assignments.

Gillespie, reached on Tuesday, said he learned about the honor in a Twitter post two days after the cover photo shoot on Sunday. He said he and the staff believed it was to be part of an article about journalism, just not for Person of the Year.

“That’s an honor reserved for popes, presidents, kings and queens…not newspaper people,” he said.  “It didn’t (sink in) right away.”

Time chose to honor the journalists either threatened with jail or whose lives were taken or threatened while in pursuit of their duties. The Capital Gazette staffers’ experiences and reaction to the incident certainly warranted the honor.

“We’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” an editor’s vow in the wake of the tragedy became a battle cry in the war on truth.

According to news reports of the incident, about a half-hour following the gunman’s entrance into the building with a shotgun blast through a glass door, he was apprehended – found cowering under the same desk where Paul had hidden just minutes earlier.

Gillespie said that he made his run when the shooter briefly went to a section of the newsroom where his desk was not visible. Though he escaped unhurt physically, the notion of losing five people close to him understandably took a toll.  He had no siblings and both of his parents had passed away a few years earlier.

“Jennifer is great and she’s gotten me through so much,” Gillespie said in an interview two weeks after the shootings about his wife. “And not having parents or brothers, my co-workers really became something of a family to me. It really hurts. This feels just like losing family members.”

On Tuesday, he said the reaction to the Time recognition bubbled up bad memories of the incident and he broke down crying soon after receiving the news.

“It’s not going to end. We’ve done TV and a press conference. After this (fades into 2019) we have the trial,” he said in reference to alleged shooter Jarrod Ramos’ jury trial, currently set for June.

Gillespie is pictured on one of four covers Time produced announcing the award. In addition to the Capital Gazette staff, Time also featured murdered columnist Jamal Khashoggi, convicted reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and indicted editor Maria Ressa.

The journalists were recognized as the “guardians in the war on truth.” The featured subjects were either jailed, murdered or targeted for murder, for doing their jobs.

Paul Gillespie marched in a July 4 parade with his wife, Jennifer, and colleagues not long after the tragedy. (Photo courtesy of Capital Gazette)

“We at (the Capital Gazette) were chosen as one of four covers, but we represent every journalist out there working hard every day,” Gillespie posted. “(We are) telling important true stories and fun features from our communities. This (recognition) is for all of us. Journalism matters.”

Formerly known as the “Man of the Year” issue until 1999, the magazine has recognized a person, group, idea or thing that “for better or worse has done the most to influence the events of the year,” according to Wikipedia.

The first Person of the Year in 1927 was aviator Charles Lindbergh, pilot of the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. Recipients through the decades have included Mahatma Gandi (1930), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963) and Pope Francis (2013). Most sitting U.S. presidents have also received the recognition.

It was not an easy road from Margate kid to the cover of Time. Paul Gillespie learned the technical aspects of photography working for local photographer and videographer Bill Horin. His new boss immediately saw something in his new assistant.

“Paul’s work ethic set him apart from day one,” said Horin. “He would deliver pizzas until 1 a.m. and be waiting for me at a shoot at 7 a.m. He was not a natural talent as a photographer, but he became a great one through dedication and hard work.”

After his four-year stint with Horin, which included everything from photographing products for catalogs to special events, Gillespie began shooting freelance for the Hammonton Gazette and eventually landed a staff photography job with The Egg Harbor Township Current.

A Paul Gillespie photo captures a head-on view of Navy’s Malcolm Perry’s run late in Saturday’s Army-Navy game. (Photo courtesy of Capital Gazette)

There Paul met a reporter named Jennifer Donatelli, whom he married. Jennifer moved on to the Capital Gazette, where Paul was soon hired to the photo staff.

“Feeling overwhelmed and so proud of Paul and his coworkers for their resilience,” wrote Jennifer, who no longer works for the paper, in a Facebook post. “But wishing this honor did not come at such a high cost. They would return it in a minute if it meant not losing (the victims).”

Gillespie covers everything from hard news to sports and features.

In the months following the shooting, he has benefited from his wife’s steadying presence, the support of friends and counseling. He has battled difficult moments and symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder and he shared it all on social media with his friends.

He has since returned to work, which sometimes provides a tonic, other times places a burden. Last week his posts expressed excitement for heading to Philadelphia to photograph the Army-Navy football game. Prior to that, he expressed cautious optimism about getting back to work on more routine assignments.

On a separate visit to some of his old haunts in South Jersey and Philly, Gillespie posted a shot from Geno’s Steaks and gave his obligatory take on the Pat’s vs. Genos debate.

“I love my visits back to my home area, especially when the trips are food-related,” he enthused in a post reflecting the observational humor he displayed more often before the life-changing events of June 28.

There have also been amusing photos and posts of the couple’s installation of their Christmas tree.

Gillespie says he still has a way to go to resume a more peaceful and calm existence.  However, he gives the impression that resilience and passion for life will win out over unspeakable tragedy.

For that, and similar resilience from his co-workers, Time magazine took notice.

Categories: Downbeach