Illinois Columnist Penned Posthumous Column

By: E&P Staff Hours after John Whiteside, 61, died of cancer Saturday, the front page of Sunday's Herald News in Joliet, Ill., carried the final column he had written in anticipation of his death.

"If you're reading this, I have already looked upon the face of God. And I pray that he has nodded his head in a positive way," Whiteside wrote in the column, headlined, "Lifelong dream ends in final column."

Since October 2003, Whiteside had shared his struggle with melanoma with readers. On Jan. 9, he wrote that the next day "could be the beginning of something good in my cancer battle." A surgeon was scheduled to cut out all the tumors, he wrote, "specifically the big one under my right arm that I nicknamed Osama, after the terrorist."

Whiteside spent his entire newspaper career with the Herald News, joining the paper after graduating from Northern Illinois University in 1971. He spent a decade as a beat and general-assignment reporter and began his daily column in 1981. The newspaper has a special section on its Web site devoted to his writing.

Whiteside was best known in the newspaper industry for his 1978 investigation, reported with Lonnie Cain, now an editor at the Ottawa (Ill.) Times, into the disappearance of Molly Zelko, a Joliet newspaper editor who angered organized crime with her reporting before disappearing in 1957. Whiteside wrote about the case until the very end of his life.

"As my storytelling days have ended, now perhaps I have the final chapter of what happened to Molly Zelko. Maybe God will allow me to interview her, if she made it upstairs, too," he wrote in his final column.

Still, he added that he wasn't proudest of his pursuit in that case. In his last column he wrote that "most of all, I like my people stories."

"My favorite saying was, 'Everyone has a story to tell, if you just listen,'" Whiteside wrote. "I believed that all of my journalism life."

He is survived by his wife, Mary Jane; his daughter, Shelly Ann; his mother, Jane Hill; two brothers, Jerry Whiteside and Allan Hill; and a sister, Sue Ray. He will lie in state Wednesday morning before an 11 a.m. funeral mass at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet.


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