Jerry Flint and I were contemporaries on the auto beat and sometimes fierce competitors, but always compatriots, buddies.
Flint died Aug. 7, ending a 52-year journalism career, nearly all of it covering the auto industry for major publications including, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Forbes magazine, where he rose to senior editor and continued writing an automotive column until his death. He was 79 (see column, p.48).
When he retired from Forbes in 1996, I invited him to write a monthly opinion column for Ward's AutoWorld. We called it the “Contrarian,” because Flint was at his best when he opposed prevailing views.
His critics usually did not have much room to complain because Flint knew what he was talking about.
He wasn't an intellectual, but he was smart and a master of automotive issues. And he was not afraid to skewer top executives. He once proposed that General Motors should fire Chairman Rick Wagoner because that's what football teams did to underperforming quarterbacks.
But Flint also could dish out praise when merited. Auto and union executives seldom denied his interview requests.
Flint loved to toss zingers at press conferences. Sure they added to his reputation as a curmudgeon, but they weren't off the cuff. He was a whiz at research and finding statistics to make his case.
One of his recent columns dealt with whether auto makers could make money on small cars. Fred Mackerodt, a close friend for many years, recalls having lunch with Flint shortly before his death.
“He asked me if small cars could be profitable, and I said ‘Not in your lifetime or mine,’” says Mackerodt, adding with a laugh: “I didn't know he'd take me seriously.”
Flint was a Detroit native and graduate of Wayne State University. He left Detroit for New York in the late 1960s and except for a stint as Forbes' Washington Bureau Chief he had lived in the Big Apple ever since.
But his heart always remained in the Motor City, even when he was lambasting the Big Three OEMs for all manner of failings, but rooting for them to be successful. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in memory of Jerry Flint to the Overseas Press Club Foundation, 40 West 45th St., New York, NY 10036.