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Robert Mayer, longtime Newsday columnist, author, dies

Robert Mayer died July 23 at his home

Robert Mayer died July 23 at his home Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 80. Photo Credit: Tony O’Brien

Robert Mayer was a journalist and author who had a passion for giving a hand to other writers and mentoring a number of fledglings, ranging in age from 12 to 60, his wife, LaDonna Mayer, said.

He’s also known for penning “Superfolks,” a novel, described by a reviewer on its reissue as “no doubt the first book to depict a superhero in midlife crisis.”

Mayer, a Newsday reporter and columnist in the 1960s and 1970s, died July 23 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from complications of Parkinson’s disease, his wife said. He was 80.

LaDonna Mayer, his wife of 30 years, said her husband would want to be remembered for his writing, but also for helping to bring other writers along. She cites her daughter’s 12-year-old friend from way back, who was thrilled when Mayer assigned her to write a book review, which was then published in the weekly newspaper he was editing.

Following a stint at The Washington Post, Mayer was in his early 20s when he was hired in 1961 for a Newsday reporter-rewrite role, Newsday said in one of several later reports announcing his various honors and awards.

So gifted was he that “he was given a column at a very early age,” said his supervisor Tony Insolia.

“Bob Mayer was as talented and graceful a writer I have ever encountered,” he said. “An editor’s dream,” both “fast and accurate,” producing “clear, clean copy — always.”

Mayer certainly had that serious side, but Insolia also describes “an entertaining series he did on living in Manhattan for a week, sponging off receptions he crashed.”

Born Feb. 24, 1939, in the Bronx to Max and Anne Mayer, he was a graduate of the City College of New York and held a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

As for the lure of journalism? His wife says that was likely related to his “incredible curiosity about people,” as well as the human condition.

Indeed, he received several professional honors for his “Robert Mayer in New York” columns, including a National Headliner Award in 1968 for “consistently outstanding local interest columns.” A Newsday account at the time referred to his earlier reporting for the paper that included coverage of the 1967 race riots in Detroit and the return to Miami of the Cuban Bay of Pigs prisoners.

For human interest columns, he was honored in 1971 with his second Mike Berger Award from Columbia University. The subjects — “the midnight cowboys” of 42nd Street, the murder of a policeman, the Manhattan funeral of a Kent State University student, and the anguish of a conscientious objector.

Still in 1971, he and his wife at the time, artist Carol Mothner, left New York for New Mexico. That was following what was to be just a road trip out West. But, “seeing one lone pine tree growing out of solid rock convinced him” that if it “can survive there, I can survive there,” LaDonna Mayer said. Still, that first marriage ended in divorce.

A tapestry artist in Santa Fe, Mayer said she was working as a waitress in 1982 when they met. Her future spouse would peek in the windows at her, one day handing her a note along the lines of, “If you’re not already attached would you go out with me?” The note included the options: yes, no, maybe, drop dead. At the time a single mother holding down three jobs, she said it took a while, but eventually the answer was yes.

It was in Santa Fe that he wrote a number of novels and works of nonfiction.

Kirkus Reviews in 2004 wrote of the reissue of Mayer’s 1977 novel “Superfolks,” which “was set in a Roger Rabbit-like world where real people mixed with fictional characters.”

Despite a few flaws, “it is sharp, funny, and ultimately moving” and “deserves to be more widely read,” the reviewer said. “The reprint couldn’t come at a better time.”

As for its author? Mayer’s publisher Nat Gertler at About Comics said, “Bob did good things. May he be long remembered.”

Besides his wife, Mayer is survived by her daughter, whom he considered his own, Amara Nash of Santa Fe, and a brother, Saul Mayer in Reston, Virginia.

He was cremated, with his ashes to be scattered privately by the family.

A celebration of his life is planned for Aug. 11, 2-4 p.m. at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe.

Correction: A previous version of this story had an incorrect age for when Robert Mayer was hired at Newsday.

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