The journalist who came to be regarded as “the greatest war correspondent since Vietnam” graduated from Jamestown (N.D.) College, now the University of Jamestown, and then attended Oxford University in London as a Rhodes scholar.

Kurt Schork was a news reporter who, during the 1990s, was almost always found at the epicenter of the most active wars occurring on the world stage, but he died in an ambush in West Africa in 2000. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reported that whenever he traveled to the various “hot spots” in the world, he “would take him (Schork) aside to find out what was really happening. He always knew more than the United Nations and the diplomats.”

Shortly after learning about the tragic death of Schork, President Bill Clinton said, “I am very sad ... he went to a lot of places, a lot of the troubled and dangerous places of the world, to bring the news to people” and then added that he was “a good and brave man.” Clinton had first met Schork 30 years earlier when they were both students at Oxford.

A reporter who worked closely with Schork wrote, “above all else, he was a humanitarian. He knew better than most journalists how to walk the fine line between doing what he had to do to be a reporter and doing what he needed to do to help people.” His brother John Schork said that “for him honesty and morality were always absolutes, he had a sense of fairness.”

Another quality often attributed to Schork was his tremendous drive to always do things correctly. He was a perfectionist and was constantly challenging himself and those around him.

One thing that stood out to everybody who knew him was his fearlessness. Whenever gun or mortar fire could be heard, most other reporters hunkered down or looked for cover, but Schork rushed in the direction of these unwelcome noises. He once swam across a frigid river to get to where the action was occurring. He had a passion for active and often dangerous sports, and Schork excelled in football and loved racing sports cars, helicopter skiing and mountain climbing.

Before becoming a correspondent, Schork was involved in politics, worked as a property developer and served as chief of staff for the New York City Travel Authority. Following his death, a street in Sarajevo, Bosnia; an international news reporting award; and the newsroom at Jamestown College were all named in Schork’s honor.

Kurt Schork. University of Jamestown / Special to The Forum
Kurt Schork. University of Jamestown / Special to The Forum

Kurt Erich Schork was born January 24, 1947, in Washington, D.C., to Paul and Margaret (Watkins) Schork. At the time of his birth, Paul was serving in the U.S. Navy as the Chief Medical Corpsman in charge of the Hematology Laboratory at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he studied the effects of radiation on people.

Kurt grew up in Rockville, Md., part of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. It was evident at an early age that he was very intelligent and also gifted athletically. He attended the Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, where he excelled in all of his classes and played baseball, football and basketball. He was also yearbook editor, sports editor of the student newspaper and vice president of student government.

It was on the football field where Schork received most of his accolades as a player and praise for his leadership ability. He was elected captain during his senior year when his team went 10-0, and he was awarded a scholarship to attend Jamestown College. Despite his size, 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing 175 pounds, Schork was a good defensive linebacker all four years he played for the Jamestown Jimmies.

However, it was in the classroom where his intelligence became most apparent. “A professor sensing his keen mind suggested he apply for a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.” On Dec. 28, 1968, the winning applicants were announced, and of the 32 selected from the U.S., Schork and Wayne “Rusty” Drugan, a student at the University of North Dakota from Valley City, N.D., were both chosen as Rhodes scholars.

Schork graduated from Jamestown College with a degree in English in the spring of 1969 and, in October, arrived at Oxford to begin his two-year program. The student who lived in the room next to Schork’s, at Oxford, was Frank Keefe from Massachusetts, and the two students became good friends. Keefe was interested in politics, and he and Schork attended an anti-war rally coordinated by fellow student William Clinton in 1970.

Following his graduation from Oxford in 1971, Schork and Keefe returned to the U.S. and settled in Lowell, Mass. Keefe had a number of political contacts there and was hired as city planner, and Schork became his assistant.

On Jan. 2, 1975, Michael Dukakis was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts, and a month later, he paid a visit to Lowell to observe the recent development of that city. Dukakis was so impressed with the progress made by Keefe and Schork, he hired them to be two of his chief advisers. Everything went well at first, but by 1977, Schork “found he couldn’t stomach what he considered Dukakis’s smug indifference to practical politics,” and resigned.

Schork had become friends with U.S. Congressman Michael Harrington, and when Harrington decided to challenge Edward Brooke for his seat in the U.S. Senate in 1978, he offered to help in his campaign. During the campaign, Harrington lost the Democratic nomination to Paul Tsongas, so Schork went to New Jersey to work on the Senate campaign of his friend Bill Bradley.

Bradley had also been a Rhodes Scholar and a basketball star for Princeton University and the New York Knicks. He was a teammate with Phil Jackson, from Williston, N.D., in the 1970s when the Knicks won NBA championships in 1970 and 1973.

When Bradley was elected, Schork returned to Massachusetts, and together with his two friends formed Harrington, Keefe & Schork Inc. on Dec. 28, 1978. This was a real estate development company that focused primarily on land and property in the Boston area.

One of the people that Schork got to know very well was Bob Kiley, the deputy mayor of Boston and the CEO of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. In 1983, many problems existed with the overburdened subway system in New York City, and Kiley was hired to fix those problems.

As chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, Kiley knew he “needed a smart and tough deputy chief of staff,” so he asked Schork to take that position, and he accepted. Schork was kept busy for some time fixing the many problems of the nation’s busiest subway system, but once he got a good handle of some of the most urgent issues, he had time to engage in a social life.

We'll continue the story in next week's column.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.

Curt Eriksmoen, Did You Know That? columnist
Curt Eriksmoen, Did You Know That? columnist