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Linda Tischler, 67; journalist wrote wryly about cancer

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Linda Tischler, center, is seen in a photo from 2000 in Andover with employees of My Way.com, where she was managing editor.GREENE, Bill GLOBE STAFF

Under the headline "Talk to Me," Linda Tischler used the last entry on her CaringBridge blog to illuminate the "incredibly isolating experience" of having cancer.

A master at using wry wit to brighten serious discussions, she kvetched about how friends are afraid to kvetch about everyday matters once "you cross a line from the land of the well to the land of the sick and you can't go back again." Ever wonder what to say to someone who just spent a day on a chemotherapy rollercoaster? Try complaining about traffic, she suggested.

"If we can have a conversation as in days of old, where you can share your own aggravations with me, without feeling guilty about it, it would be a great gift," she wrote in that final post. "Let's get normal and share a fine whine."

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Ms. Tischler, who was 67 when she died of cancer April 11, wrote and edited for the Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, Sidewalk.com, and MyWay.com. At Fast Company magazine, where she spent the past 13 years, she focused on the increasing importance design plays in businesses from Apple to Coca-Cola, Facebook, and Google.

Praised by colleagues and designers for her innovative work, Ms. Tischler was no less inventive with her blog, which ran longer than 18,000 words, beginning not long after her endometrial cancer diagnosis in December 2011 and ending in March 2014.

With deft phrases and occasional irresistible puns, she eased readers through her reporting as a "travel writer in a distant, possibly hostile land" of illness. She could explain white blood cell counts like an experienced medical reporter. She could also use the headline "You're So Vein" to introduce a post about having "a port installed near my collarbone so that I can avoid the torture-by-needle that IV insertion had become," a process that left her arms "so bruised that I looked like some kind of inept junkie."

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"Linda was incredibly talented as a writer,and as an editor," said Janice Page, the Globe's deputy managing editor for features, who worked with Ms. Tischler at Sidewalk.com and MyWay.com.

"No one was a better storyteller than Linda Tischler," Page added. "In person, in print, she was masterful at seeing the narrative and bringing out the essential things in every scene. That woman could find humor and poignancy in everything."

The blog entry titled "Genes of a Different Hue" carried a double meaning. Before writing that her father's entire family had died from different kinds of cancer, Ms. Tischler began: "Last time I penned a piece for this blog, I was shamelessly clad in a pair of hot orange jeans, sucking down Taxol through a pipe in my arm. Lord, what I do to entertain you people."

A hospital visit for "part deux of Round 4 of this odious chemocycle" prompted thoughts of the mythological character Sisyphus. "The Greek king Sisyphus was a nasty, duplicitous old dude," she wrote. "I don't relate much to his activities, which tended toward killing travelers, tormenting and killing his brother, and betraying Zeus (never a good thing). But I sure can relate to his punishment: endlessly pushing a boulder up a steep hill, only to see it slip and roll back down, just when he thought he'd reached the summit. My life has seemed remarkably Sisyphean these days."

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Of chemotherapy-related hair loss and its discontents, she wrote: "I hate walking around with just a scarf. It's like wearing a sign saying: 'Cancer patient!' "

The oldest of four siblings, Linda Carol Hayes grew up in Aliquippa, Pa., a daughter of Jack Hayes and the former Violet Sabo.

A scholarship helped her attend Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, and after two years she transferred to Boston University, where she studied English, graduating in 1970.

At BU she met Henry Tischler, who is now a sociology professor at Framingham State University. They married in 1973 and as she moved up in the often jostling world of media, "the thing that I learned from Linda is that she was able to do what she did and do it well and be successful without being a mean, nasty person," he said.

"Having been with her for all these years, I learned to become a nicer person," he added.

In her blog, Ms. Tischler wrote often about her gratefulness for their marriage, noting: "Who thinks, in your mid-20s, standing before the rabbi and swearing 'in sickness and in health' that you'll ever really have to pay the piper?"

Ms. Tischler went to graduate school after her first child was born and received two master's degrees from BU, in English and in journalism, and the later turned out to be her calling. "She said over and over that being a journalist for her meant that she could be interested in a lot of things," her husband recalled. "She could go from one thing to the next and immerse herself and become knowledgeable and write about it."

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She was lifestyles editor at the Boston Herald and initiated design awards while an editor at Boston Magazine, and she eagerly embraced the changes in journalism the Internet wrought. "She was just a kid in a candy store when it came to absorbing new technologies, new types of content, new ways of reporting," Page said.

After stops at Sidewalk.com and MyWay.com, Ms. Tischler joined Fast Company in 2003, and she and her husband divided their time between their Sudbury home and New York City.

At Fast Company, "Linda identified a strain of coverage, a theme in the developing business world about the intersection between business and design, well before others did, and was able to popularize and teach others about it, including me," said Bob Safian, editor-in-chief, who added that Ms. Tischler helped launch the magazine's business and design website.

Chuck Salter, senior editor at the magazine, said that what Ms. Tischler "was doing with design at Fast Company seemed to have a ripple effect and other business magazines began to cover design as well." He added that she brought a "generosity of spirit" to encouraging other journalists to write about the area as well.

"The words 'design-driven company' weren't even in the culture yet, and through her work she helped legitimatize it, explain it," said David Butler, vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at Coca-Cola.

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"She helped bring that concept to life. Every designer benefited from her," added Butler, who coauthored with Ms. Tischler the 2015 book "Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility (and How You Can Too)."

A service has been held for Ms. Tischler, who in addition to her husband leaves her two children, Melissa of Greenwich, Conn., and Ben of Decatur, Ga.; her mother, Violet Hayes of Yorktown, Va.; two brothers, Jack Hayes, also of Yorktown, and Patrick Hayes of Pleasanton, Calif.; her sister, Kathleen Hayes of Paso Robles, Calif.; and two grandchildren.

Ms. Tischler, who spoke three times at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, was introduced by Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative. She finished her book while being treated for cancer, but her husband said in a eulogy "her work never took away from the beautiful relationship she had with Melissa and Ben," who recalled in their own eulogies the nurturing role she had in their lives.

"She was the first person I'd call when I had good news – whether it was landing a job I really wanted or finding out that I was pregnant," Melissa said. "She was the first person I would call when something went wrong because I knew she'd be able to offer perspective and spot-on advice."

Said Ben: "She believed in everyone and would do whatever she could to inspire and mentor."


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.