To her colleagues, journalist Lisa Chedekel didn’t just write stories. She chased kernels of truth, weaving together beautiful, almost lyrical pieces on subjects that were anything but.
To the people she sometimes wrote those pieces about, she was direct but fair, taking an approach that was never personal, but inevitably became personal. Bonds from those relationships lasted throughout her life.
And though she spent much of her career in Connecticut, her dogged, tireless pursuit of the truth changed minds and influenced policy throughout the country, winning countless accolades along the way.
Ms. Chedekel, a former Hartford Courant reporter who in her later years formed a grant-driven, nonprofit health-news website, died Friday after a bout with cancer. She was 57 and lived in Newton. She leaves two children, Bernard and Evelyn, and her wife, Isabel Morais.
“She was really an editor’s dream to work with; she came up with so many of her own amazing ideas,” said Lynne DeLucia, a former Courant editor who cofounded the Connecticut Health Investigative Team with Ms. Chedekel in 2010. “She had a knack of getting information out of reluctant sources, of finding the bits and pieces of a story by digging through data and putting it together.”
She also wrote for the Boston University School of Public Health and taught journalism at Northeastern University.
Ms. Chedekel grew up in Andover, attending Phillips Academy in her teenage years. She graduated from Wesleyan University in 1982, leaving with a degree in English.
Later that year, she put those skills to the test at the now-defunct New Haven Advocate. Two years later, she joined the staff at the New Haven Register, covering City Hall and writing a metro column.
In 1987, she was the first to report that US Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork owed just over $1,000 in back car taxes to New Haven from his time as a law professor at Yale — reportedly prompting the FBI to investigate her tax payments.
During those early days, she crossed paths many times with John DeStefano Jr., who would later go on to become that city’s mayor.
“In the ’80s, she was young and fierce and independent, and figuring out how she was going to change the world,” said DeStefano, who kept in close correspondence with Ms. Chedekel, as recently as November. “She was all those things, and she had a tremendous sense of herself and the role of the media.”
Ms. Chedekel traded the Register for The Courant in 1992. Seven years later, she was a member of a team of Courant reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at the Connecticut Lottery Corp. On the Courant’s investigative desk, she traveled to a Mexican sweatshop that produced apparel for the University of Connecticut and later revealed that UConn’s athletic director and coaches were swapping game tickets for cars with a sponsor.
“Lisa was a fearless reporter and elegant writer,” said John Ferraro, a Courant editor who worked closely with Chedekel. “She searched for truth wherever it led. She was an advocate for the powerless and a thorn in the side of the powerful.”
She switched to political coverage in 2000, and in 2002 spent 10 days in Saudi Arabia to gauge the country’s sentiments toward the United States a year after the 9/11 attacks.
Brian Toolan, her editor at the time, called it one of the best pieces he’d ever been involved with.
“All you had to give her was the grain of an idea, and then get out of her way,” Toolan said. “Once she had even a vague sense of what you where hoping the story would accomplish, she would produce something that was tenfold better than what the assigning editor hoped it to be.”
One of her most championed pieces was “Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight,” a 2006 investigative series with Courant writer Matthew Kauffman exposing that the military, in violation of its own rules, was sending mentally ill men and women to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The series won numerous awards, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting. But, most importantly, it led Congress to overhaul its rules on diagnosing and treating mental health issues in the military.
Ms. Chedekel left The Courant in 2008.
In a posting on the Connecticut Health Investigative Team news site, Delucia said Ms. Chedekel’s reporting on health care was a “force of change. She saw our journalism as a way to illuminate the plight of people who struggled to get access to health care.’’
Last October, Ms. Chedekel won a Publick Occurrences Award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association for “Desperate Choices: Giving Up Custody For Care,” which told the stories of parents pressured into releasing custody of their children to get them into mental-health treatment programs.
It was, as Ms. Chedekel often said about her work, a story told through “the small moments.”
“You wait for the big moment, it never comes,” Ms. Chedekel once said. “The small moments add up to a story that has big public impact.”