Connect to share and comment

A reporter who covered the human soul

Remembering John Nance, the journalist who wrote of the Tasaday people.

Years ago, visiting him in Portland, I poked through his mountain of negatives, his roomful of notes and files. For John, truth mattered.

It was all there, as if I needed any proof. The elaborate details of his encounters were enough for any dubious reporter. Besides, this was John Nance.

Wikipedia now defines our reality with entries that may be accurate but also may not. It says the Tasaday are widely regarded a hoax. Horseshit.

Through all of this, John’s humanity and humor blazed as warmly as ever. He wrote and taught and inspired anyone who crossed his path.

A Pied Piper, people embraced him instantly. His Portland haunt was the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, run by a lovable force of nature named Goody Cable.

During the happy California ‘90s, John met my friend Phil Cousineau, another of those rare grand inspirers, who was teaching at Esalen.

Phil cited a line from John’s book, quoting a Tasaday shaman: “The soul is the part of you that sees the dream.” John introduced himself. Whenever they talked over the years, sparks flew.

"For our times,” Phil wrote today, “John was the soul of journalism, the part of us that sees the dream and the nightmare that make up our world."

He, like all who knew John, was outraged at the controversy.

John ventured into the jungle at great risk 20 different times to visit the Tasaday, amassing thousands of photos and hundreds of hours of taped interviews. He helped to save their sanctuary.

Doubters who now overwhelm such sites as Wikipedia include one anthropologist who visited for only one day and others who never went at all.

Phil concluded: “These sanctimonious creeps were jealous as hell that John, a mere journalist, had scooped them.”

John met a wonderful mate, Sally Crane, and settled in Columbus, Ohio. Cancer took an ugly turn in January, and he went fast.

I spoke to him the day before he died. He was weak and tired, but he was all John Nance. We talked about old times and lifelong friends.

Then he died in the arms of Sally and his daughter, Gillian. He was 74.