Vincent R. Zarate, a prize-winning, old school newsman who delighted in bringing down the mighty while venting the outrage of ordinary citizens, died early Sunday morning in a Texas hospital.
According to his daughter, Joan Zarate of Iola, Texas, the cause of death stemmed from complications involving pneumonia and Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.
“I want to ruin someone’s breakfast every Sunday,” was a favorite Mr. Zarate utterance while pounding the keys of his typewriter — and later his computer — as he crafted his latest weekend expose.
“He was the old-time reporter in the best sense of the word,” said former Gov. Jim Florio, whose dealings with Mr. Zarate on tax, budget, and insurance matters often were testy. “I always enjoyed him at press conferences. He was a little curmudgeonly at times.”
His journalism career began shortly after his discharge from the Navy in the 1950s, starting out at the Easton Express.
When he wasn’t trying to expose official shenanigans, Mr. Zarate delighted in finding humor in everyday life.
In a 1991 column for the Hackettstown Star-Gazette, the late Richard Harpster recounted how Mr. Zarate once “reported that Belvidere’s town drunk, who slept in the jail each night, refused to give the jail keys to the chief of police.” Mr. Zarate later informed readers that the chief finally had to ask town council for an extra set of keys.
He joined the Newark Evening News in 1961, working there until the paper folded in 1972. Mr. Zarate moved on to the Paterson Evening News’ Trenton office while authoring freelance articles on insurance for The Journal of Commerce.
He also did a brief stint with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs before working on former Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Sandman’s gubernatorial campaign in 1973. It ended in a landslide loss to Democrat Brendan Byrne.
Mr. Zarate joined The Star-Ledger Trenton Bureau, where he worked for nearly two decades, shortly after the Sandman campaign.
He covered insurance, the budget and the Treasurer’s office, always with his signature cigar clenched in his teeth. He didn’t quit until all smoking was banned in the Statehouse.
Leonard Fisher, who was the Trenton Bureau Chief when Mr. Zarate covered the state capitol, observed his reporting skills first-hand.
“There wasn’t a governor Vince covered who was not shocked to find out
Zarate knew the final budget figures before they did,” said Fisher.
“Vince, of course, was pals with the printer in the Statehouse basement and got the document days before anyone. He was also best friends with the shoeshine guy. He taught me a lot about who and how to cultivate sources,” he added.
Mr. Zarate’s skills went beyond reporting.
He was the perennial star of The Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual political roast.
His booming rendition of a song about then-state Senate President Carmen Orechio, to the title song of the opera “Carmen,” remains fondly remembered today by politicians, reporters and lobbyists who saw it.
He took his music and singing seriously, participating in several productions with local theater groups and taking voice and banjo lessons. In fact, there were late Friday afternoons in the Statehouse where Mr. Zarate could be heard strumming his banjo. He also was sharp with a pool cue, a skill he learned in the Navy.
David Neese, veteran Trentonian reporter and editor, said Mr. Zarate never stopped having fun.
“Life for him was a stage for an ongoing standup routine. He was never without a joke or anecdote,” Neese said. “Any glum mood was banished when Vince came around.”
A graduate of Hackettstown High School and William and Mary University in Williamsburg, Va., Zarate was born in Scranton, Pa. He won multiple New Jersey Press Association awards.
Mr. Zarate is survived by his daughter Joan, her husband William Roberts, granddaughter Adan and grandson Vincent. Others include several nephews and nieces, including Elaine Makatura.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2pm, February 15 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Academy Chapel, 2402 South College Ave, Bryan, at the corner of Williamson and South College Ave. Services are in the care of Callaway-Jones Funeral Home and Crematory.