(RNS) — Richard Dujardin, a lifelong newspaperman who covered religion for more than three decades for the Providence Journal, has died at age 77 from an accidental fall from a bridge.
Dujardin and his wife, Rose-Marie, were on vacation in Milwaukee and headed to an afternoon Mass on Monday (Aug. 15) when a city drawbridge opened up beneath him.
His wife had already made it to the other side, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but Dujardin was in still the middle of the bridge. He tried to make it to the other side and was unable to. He clung to a railing before falling to his death.
The accident is being investigated.
Dujardin’s loss was mourned by former colleagues on the religion beat.
“This is a heartbreaking loss,” said Manya Brachear Pashman, former president of the Religion News Association, which honored Dujardin with its lifetime achievement award in 2015. Dujardin played a key role for RNA, serving as a president and a board member.
“Richard was a veteran of our great profession who never lost his zeal for what we do and its greater purpose,” said Brachear Pashman. “He was a kind soul too, whom even the most curmudgeonly among us wanted to throw their arms around and hug at conferences. He was that much of an inspiration.”
Peter Smith, a longtime religion journalist, and another former RNA president said Dujardin and Rose-Marie were faithful supporters of religion reporters, even after his retirement.
“Richard was an exemplary religion reporter, and he was a mentor and friend to me,” Smith said. “Through his leadership in RNA, and through his enthusiastic participation at RNA conferences, which he and Rose-Marie attended faithfully even into his retirement, he encouraged and supported many of us as we sought to follow his example in providing in-depth coverage of religion news.”
Born in New York City in 1944, Dujardin grew up in Queens and later, in the village of Merrick on Long Island. After graduating from Chaminade, an all-boys Catholic high school, he attended Fordham University, studying journalism and working for a school newspaper, according to a 2015 profile.
He began working at the Journal in 1966 and remained there for nearly five decades, interrupted only by a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy Reserve, as an officer on an ocean-going tug and the U.S.S. Butte, an ammunition ship.
Dujardin applied for the religion writer post at the Journal in 1975 but was turned down. He was offered the job two years later and hesitated for a moment, before realizing that he would always have something interesting to write about. By 1978, he was standing on a roof overlooking St. Peter’s Square as John Paul II was installed as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He would return to the Vatican in 2005 to cover the installation of Pope Benedict XVI and again in 2013 for Pope Francis.