His mind already on deadlines, David Jrolf walked into work every afternoon an hour or more before he was scheduled to begin editing news stories until midnight or beyond.
As he passed the desks of reporters and editors in the Globe’s newsroom, his calm, steady gait stood in contrast to the upheaval he would soon face. The night might bring gunshots or fires, protests or political unrest. The night would always bring a string of deadlines, relentless and unforgiving. Settling into his desk, he’d murmur “everything’s going to be OK” in the same dry deadpan he used when delivering shrewd puns or wry observations that eased tense moments.
His desk as night city editor was at the pulse of the newsroom, a stride away from the front page editors. Amid the tumult he was both rigid and reassuring. During one hectic night after the Boston Marathon bombings, he told a reporter that only 20 minutes remained until deadline. “I’m going to need you to write like your hair’s on fire,” he said, his voice soft and unruffled, “but I got your back. You’re gonna do great.”
Mr. Jrolf, a Globe editor since 1994 and previously a key editor at the Boston Herald, died of cancer Monday in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 60 and lived in Milton.
“Rare is the editor with David’s exceptionally refined news judgment. Rarer still is the journalist with his utter unflappability,” Brian McGrory, the Globe’s editor, and Jennifer Peter, the senior deputy managing editor for local news, said in a note to the staff after Mr. Jrolf died.
“When we walked out of here in the evening and David was at his perch,” they said, “we knew the Globe and its readers were in the excellent hands of someone who had been there, seen it, and would do it time and again with the most unusual mix of calm and urgency.”
As the Globe’s night city editor, and as night editor on the copy desk before that, Mr. Jrolf spent nearly two decades in jobs where his principal responsibilities included ensuring that the Globe was published on time.
At the Herald, he had been deputy managing editor for production, in charge of the copy desk and the front page, for which he crafted or edited each day’s large eye-catching headlines. “He wrote damned good headlines,” said Andrew Gully, a former Herald managing editor and former director of content marketing for the Globe. And by keeping the Herald’s copy desk fast and sharp, Gully added, Mr. Jrolf “played a really major role in an endless parade of big stories.”
Michael Bello, the Globe’s deputy city editor who previously worked at the Herald with Mr. Jrolf, recalled that he was “an intense editor who was determined to do a good job. He would not leave his post as night editor until the job was done managing raging fires, murders, hostage standoffs, and blizzards.”
Yet anyone who worked with Mr. Jrolf knew that his children – triplet 18-year-old daughters and a 16-year-old son – were more important to him than the biggest of news stories. At each day’s afternoon Metro meeting, “I heard stories about his children and his deep pride in them,” Peter recalled.
Born in Milwaukee, David M. Jrolf was the third of five children. His father, John, was an engineer who worked on the Apollo space program and helped develop guidance systems. His mother, the former Delphine Jarantoski, was a homemaker.
Mr. Jrolf lived in Milwaukee into his teen years and remained loyal to Wisconsin’s professional sports teams — particularly the Green Bay Packers — after his father’s work brought the family to Greater Boston.
He finished high school in Framingham and graduated in 1979 from Framingham State College, where he was editor of The Gatepost, the student newspaper. “Working for the student newspaper fueled my love of journalism and served as the springboard to everything that followed,” Mr. Jrolf told the school’s alumni magazine, when it featured him in 2014 after he was part of the Globe staff that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the Marathon bombing coverage.
Mr. Jrolf, who also received a master’s in creative writing from Northeastern University, was a reporter for what is now the MetroWest Daily News after college. He then was a reporter for the Marlborough Enterprise and a city editor at the Sentinel and Enterprise in Fitchburg.
In 1994, he married Moira Downes. Their daughters are Madison, Delphine, and Maeve, their son is William, and photos of the children were a constant presence at Mr. Jrolf’s desk.
Mr. Jrolf was so well-read that “we had a joke in the family that Dave would read the books and I would build the bookshelves to hold the books. I was constantly building bookshelves,” said Moira, whose marriage to Mr. Jrolf ended in 2011. She added that he bought extra copies of books he loved – “we must have eight copies of ‘Moby-Dick.’ ”
Though tall and sporting the physique of a former NFL lineman in later years — “Let’s make a pyramid. I’ll be at the top,” he liked to joke — Mr. Jrolf as a young man was “known as a great tennis player who was seen around town in tight white tennis shorts,” his brother Mark of Newton said.
“He was called a gentle giant,” said his brother Tom of Westford. “He was a big guy, but he was kind.”
Ted Gartland, a retired Globe photo editor who also worked with Mr. Jrolf at the Herald, recalled a night nearly a quarter-century ago when Gartland, against a harsh deadline, shot a key rock concert photo that Mr. Jrolf ran on the Herald’s front page. The next day, Gartland was greeted by a note from Mr. Jrolf “written longhand in elegant cursive, thanking me for my efforts. The tenor of the note was just so different from the short, sharp barking and grunting we so often do out in the newsroom. There was some tender stuff inside that bear of a man, you know?”
In addition to his four children, two brothers, and former wife, Mr. Jrolf leaves another brother, James of Kansas City, Mo., and a sister, Judith Stirrat of Beverly.
A wake will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Dolan Funeral Home on Granite Avenue in East Milton. A funeral Mass will be said at 9 a.m. Friday in St. Elizabeth’s Church in Milton.
On the city desk, Mr. Jrolf was a mentor to scores of student co-ops, calming and encouraging as he taught them to aspire to the highest standards.
Often he inspired by his own example. The night Princess Diana died in Paris in 1997, Mr. Jrolf had left to go home just before the news broke late one Saturday. Michael Larkin, the Globe’s former deputy managing editor for news operations, was on the phone trying to get reporters to Paris “when I looked up and Dave was walking back into the room. I don’t know whether he heard it on the radio or what. He knew everyone would be needed, and he was there.
“He sat down, turned on his computer and worked with me until 4 o’clock Sunday morning,” Larkin added. “I’ll never forget it. That was one of the most magnanimous gestures. But that was Dave. He wanted to be in on the big stories. He just loved journalism.”