Margaret Gillerman

Margaret Gillerman stands in the lobby of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where Joseph Pulitzer’s platform on journalism and society adorns the wall behind her. Photo: Kristi Foster

Ellen Futterman

There is no such thing as a short conversation with Margaret Gillerman. That’s because Gillerman remembers everything about everybody she’s ever met and likes to recall one or two or 14 of these fond memories when she meets up with them.

She could well be in the running for the nicest person on the planet award, or at least in metropolitan St. Louis. As a journalist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for more than 30 years, she has sought out and written about people and programs that make a difference as well as brought to light conditions that were unfair and unjust.

“I covered East St. Louis for five years and that was possibly my most favorite assignment,” she said. “I’d see so much poverty and so many problems good people of all ages had to face, largely because of inequities in our society and racism. The conditions at the schools had deteriorated so much. I wrote much about that and felt that perhaps I was helping. Eventually, the state appointed an oversight committee to run the schools.”

Gillerman explained that in high school (Ladue) and college (University of Wisconsin and Columbia University, where she earned a master’s in journalism) she was always drawn to social action causes but felt restrained later on because of her job as a reporter and the need for objectivity. Then, about a decade or so, the Post revised its ethics policy to allow reporters to get involved with their religious organizations.

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In Gillerman’s case that means two – she is a member of both Temple Israel, where her family has belonged for decades, and Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, where she has served as chair or co-chair of the synagogue’s annual Mitzvah Day for the past five years.

“I’ve been involved with that project for the past decade,” she said. “It’s so rewarding and fun to work with the rabbi and friends I love and admire, knowing that we’re a team and trying to do what’s asked of us by our religion.”

Lately, she has been working with Grace Hill in some of the poorest St. Louis neighborhoods. “I’ve organized several adult education programs – on a committee led by Marvin Beckerman – on subjects from creation, science and religion to a Jewish poetry coffeehouse to presentations by Seeds of Peace and Cultural leadership and last year, a joint program on Wooden Synagogues with the Holocaust Museum.

“A favorite project I look forward to all year is Christmas food delivery sponsored by Faith Beyond Walls. We go into poor neighborhoods and deliver meals to people who are homebound, poor and ill. One dear elderly lady – she was blind and living alone in public housing – played cheerful music for us on the radio and talked a long while to us. She confided that she hoped her nephew would come see her that Christmas Day.”

Judith VandeWater, a longtime friend and Post-Dispatch colleague now editing the newspaper of the Catholic Health Association, said of Gillerman, “She lifts people up – as individuals and in community. To be her friend is to have a personal cheerleader. She gushes over her friends.  She’s an optimist who is deeply spiritual.  

“Margaret sees the good in people. She believes individuals have both the capacity and the obligation to repair the world. As a journalist, she writes about social justice and community advocacy.  As a volunteer -fueled by way too many large lattes each day – she demonstrates her compassion and humanity.”

Gillerman credits her parents, Marcia and the late Harvey Gillerman, with teaching her to care about other people’s feelings and to try to make the world a better place. “Fairness, equality, freedom for all and justice were values they taught my sister and me,” she said. “They also showed us wonderful examples of volunteering for good causes and community involvement.”

In typical Gillerman self-effacing style, she spends much of the conversation saying how honored she is to be receiving this award, though she insists she doesn’t deserve it, and humbled to be in the company of the others who are being honored.

“People who know me would say I’m more of an unstrung hero than unsung hero,” she said. “Almost all of my friends and family I love are involved in social causes and helping the community and world be a better place.”

Margaret Gillerman

Occupation: Reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Age: 58

Residence: University City

Family: Married to Mark Schlinkmann

Favorite journalism movies:  the (original) “Front Page” and “Deadline-U.S.A.”