Mary Fricker ’62, now 69 years old, is a journalist whose modest and kindly nature belies her reputation as a thorough and tough investigative reporter. Throughout her career, Fricker has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the George Polk Award and the University of California-Los Angeles Gerald Loeb Award. This month she will have been honored twice, having received the Norwin S. Yoffie Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists earlier this week and will be accepting the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage next week in Atlanta, Ga.
Fricker graduated from the College of William in Mary with a B.A. in English. From an early age she dreamed of being a reporter, and during her time at the College she worked for The Flat Hat. However, she would end up deferring her goal for about two decades. During this period she married twice, both times to U.S. Marines, was widowed twice, and raised two sons.
Her first foray into journalism came at the age of 43 when she began working for Russian River News. In 1989, Fricker co-authored the book “Inside Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans,” which was a definitive report of the Savings and Loan Crisis. The book became a New York Times bestseller. Fricker’s success secured her a job at the Press Democrat, a newspaper in Santa Rosa, Cal. She worked there for 21 years, covering business and the economy until her retirement in 2006. Some of her best work, however, was still to come.
In April 2007, Chauncey Bailey, editor of The Oakland Post, was gunned down on his way to work. The assassination was in response to an article he was researching on Your Black Muslim Bakery. The Bakery was once a prominent institution in California’s black community and a model of black entrepreneurship. By 2007, however, the organization had regressed and its members were implicated in crimes including assault and murder. The man responsible for Bailey’s shooting was an employee at the Bakery.
After Bailey’s murder, Fricker came out of retirement to join other journalists, forming the Chauncey Bailey Project. She coined the group’s motto, “You can’t kill a story by killing a journalist.” The Project was determined to continue Bailey’s investigation into the Bakery and to report on the Bailey murder investigation. Needless to say, this was a dangerous and challenging job.
The project’s investigations uncovered important evidence the police had overlooked during the murder investigation, including a tape that implicated the Bakery’s leader, Yusuf Bey IV, in the killing and has since led to his indictment on murder charges. Furthermore, the project uncovered serious missteps by the police department, which led to the resignation of the Oakland police chief, who was found to be a personal friend of Bey. Their investigation into the Bakery turned up evidence of other crimes including sexual assault by its leaders, which Fricker exhaustively investigated. It is mainly for her work with the Project that she will be receiving the Journalistic Courage Award.
Throughout her journalistic career, Frickner has consistently shown herself to be a tenacious investigator striving to find the truth, and a courageous woman not afraid to start a new career later in life or follow a story, even at the risk of personal harm. She not only told her readers about the world; she also used her position in ways that caused real change in her community. We should be proud to call her an alumna.
E-mail Ed Innace at [email protected]