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Miami Herald columnist Fred Sherman, a champion of environmental preservation, dies at 93

Equally at home with blueprint or musical score, Frederic Sherman edits the the [Miami] Herald’s real estate section and also reviews modern jazz recordings in Sunday’s Fun in Florida Magazine. Both hats fit him with aplomb, because he possesses an innate sense of the dramatic. He captures in words the excitement of jazz, but leans heavily on the use of pictures to dramatize the news in the home building field.

That’s how an Oct. 21, 1956, Herald in-house ad page introduced Fred Sherman, its former picture editor turned prize-winning editor of the paper’s Home section.

The focus on photography was apt, said his son Charles Sherman, an executive editor for the Miami Herald’s International Edition. Before joining the Herald in 1953, Sherman, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, was a picture editor with the Daily Oklahoman and the San Diego Tribune. “My dad had a good eye. He did some innovative things with sports photography…and his large pictures got notice.”

And he wanted his photographers to look good, too, his son said.

“Ray Fisher used to be a photographer for the Herald and one of dad’s favorite stories is how he got Ray to get a tuxedo to cover the Miami Beach entertainment scene.”

Fisher, now 90, shot more than 1,000 celeb and personality shots for the paper. “I don’t recall the tux,” he said, chuckling. His wife, Sue, chimes in. She remembers. “I did have a tux,” he allows. “Fred’s legacy is that he was a true Miamian. He loved the city and loved everything about it.”

Sherman, a long time resident of Key Biscayne who championed landmarks like Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, died of pneumonia at 93 in California on June 27.

During his 26-year tenure with the Herald, Sherman, son of a Baltimore newsman turned lawyer, served as a photo editor, wrote about architecture, urban planning, environmental preservation and jazz. Awards arrived at a fast clip, including a National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) first prize in 1962 for his series of stories dealing with a proposal to allow billboards to go up along Miami-Dade County’s expressways. NAREE named Sherman its president in 1961.

“A home section of a newspaper must be more than the totals on acreage and houses bought and sold,” Sherman said after being named Home editor in 1956. “It must tell not only where people live and where they will live, but how they live.”

He told countless stories about how people lived. And sometimes, about how he lived.

He had thyroid cancer. Though a persistent beast, “feeding on me, filling my throat and slowly choking me to death,” he still served as a merchant marine during World War II, worked in Iraq and Iran during the war, married, fathered a son, and worked at several suburban newspapers, all the while battling what seemed a mystery ailment, he wrote in a 1955 Miami Herald feature, They Had Cancer and Lived.

The clinical feature, which read like a sci-fi epic — “he drank the atomic cocktail” — detailed his six-year battle to rid himself of the cancer with the aid of radioactive iodine in 1949. The piece won him a national award — and a hundred bucks — from a cancer association.

“Dad’s stories were a bit apocryphal,” his son said.

“Fred had amazing stories. He was funny as hell,” said Shelley Acoca, a former Miami Herald features editor who befriended Sherman late in life and sat rapt as he shared stories of a bygone era: slipping into Overtown in the wee hours to hear sets by Sammy Davis Jr. and other black musicians after they could no longer be in segregated Miami Beach. Pioneering women in the newsroom, such as the time he “spirited” Kay Murphy from the women’s department at the Herald and put her to work alongside him on the Home section for nearly a decade.

“He was very proud all these years later of having broken down that wall,” Acoca said.

Sherman’s prose wielded considerable influence in the fields of real estate and development in those days. He earned praise and pans, alike.

Sherman’s a Bum, Says Realtor screamed one 1962 headline, only to be countered with, He’s Not, Says a Professor. The issue: zoning changes along North Kendall Drive encroaching into the Everglades.

He left the Herald in 1979, but he wrote an article for the paper in September 1992 to take local county government, developers and the construction industry to task for “the greed, incompetence and corruption that reduced tens of thousands of houses and entire subdivisions to splinters” during Hurricane Andrew. “Dade County needs … Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and 10 other unforgiving avengers,” he wrote.

“He definitely had a reputation and knew a lot of people in real estate. He was a big deal all through that time. It was important to have someone who knew what he was doing,” said Kenn Finkel, a former Herald sports editor who worked alongside Sherman.

But Sherman had a bon vivant side, too. He brought son Stuart, then 9, to a November 1960 press conference at the Key Biscayne Hotel with president-elect John F. Kennedy and the defeated challenger, Richard M. Nixon. Stuart wrote the column. One can imagine Dad hovering by the typewriter with a grin and advice on beating deadlines.

“Kennedy just entered. He was very handsome and, well, I voted for Nixon [?], really,” Stuart wrote. An editor must have added the question mark. “He talked like a normal man, I think. He was nice.…Kennedy shook my hand and I said, ‘I’ll never wash that hand again.’ He said, ‘Good. Keep it that way.’

Jazz icons Sherman adored like Dave Brubeck, Bobby Short and Marian McPartland were also known to pop over to his home. He and late wife Eleanor, a Herald editorial staffer who died in 1993, were known for the parties they threw.

“When I was a young reporter at the Herald in the late ’50s and early ’60s, our social life revolved around the Herald newsroom. Fred and Eleanor often hosted BYO liquor Herald parties, and their home was like a revolving door for all of the newsroom. So many Saturday nights of fun, with Fred and Eleanor always at the center of it. He was not only a solid professional newsman, but a thoroughly delightful newsman who enjoyed a good time off the job as well as on it,” Erwin Potts wrote in an email.

In addition to his sons Charles and Stuart, Sherman is survived his brother Russell, and three grandchildren, Asia, Nicholas and Breese Sherman.