March 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha Magazine lost a member of our family yesterday with the passing of freelance writer Judy Horan. Judy had written for the magazine for more than 30 years, and her careful reporting, willingness to tackle nearly any subject, and overall great journalism skills will be missed.

“Judy was our longest continuous freelance writer for Omaha Magazine,” says publisher Todd Lemke. “She always met deadlines and provided great stories, always with a very pleasant demeanor.”

That certainly is not all we will miss about Judy. More than a freelance writer, Judy was a personal friend to several of us here.

In 2013, we produced an article titled “Pioneers in Media,” a spotlight on several noteworthy local women journalists, from WOWT’s Ann Pedersen to Creighton University journalism professor Eileen Wirth. This article started out as an editor’s idea for a piece about her being the first woman in television management in Omaha. When approached with the idea, she demurred, instead suggesting an article about local women in media, saying she’d be happy to write it.

The women showcased in the article were likewise happy to be written about by Judy, as they knew their kind and attentive friend would produce a great work of writing. Judy possessed a rare quality of being able to stay neutral even when writing about her friends—and all the women in the article were friends of hers, whether through media relations or the Omaha Press Club.

The OPC was Judy’s home away from home, and she could be found there about once a week, quietly taking notes or participating in one of the many committees on which she served.

My personal experience with Judy started with the Omaha Press Club. Judy delighted in coming up with new ideas, especially if they helped other people. When the 2007 Excellence in Journalism awards ceremony failed to sell out, she saw possibility. The next year, she organized the Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame awards as a way to fill the club on a night we both deemed important for the journalism community.

An important side to Judy’s OPC legacy is the Face on the Barroom Floor, a caricature series illustrated by her husband, Jim Horan. They worked with a large committee to honor “Faces,” local personalities that vary from film director Alexander Payne to astronaut Clayton Anderson to billionaire Warren Buffett.

Tom O’Connor, chairman of the Face on the Barroom Floor committee for 15 years, worked with Judy on the past 66 Face events. As senior associate director of public relations for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, O’Connor also worked frequently with Judy to arrange interviews for her coverage of UNMC.

“Judy was truly one of the unsung heroes of our community,” O’Connor says. “She embodied what Nebraskans are all about. She knew how to get the job done. You always knew that Judy would come through for you—whether she was freelancing or volunteering—and produce a quality product. I would bet she never missed a deadline.”

Susan Eustice, director of PR & Communications for The Salvation Army Western Division, says, “Judy was my Omaha Press Club co-chair, my co-pilot, mentor, and dear friend. She was an exceptional volunteer with a true love for the OPC, where her legacy will live on forever.”

OPC executive director Steve Villamonte says Judy was an invaluable asset to the club, as well as a personal friend.

“She made me feel as though I had job security,” Villamonte says. “We work hard to make our bottom line, and Judy was always willing to help make that happen.”

Villamonte says he learned a lot from Judy, including a lot about the running of a publication. Judy co-chaired the publications committee, and as always (pleasantly) made sure everyone adhered to deadlines. Along the way, Judy befriended Villamonte. He recalls how the ever-affable Judy never forgot to inquire about his health.

When I began working at Omaha Magazine, one of the many things I was excited for was the chance to work with Judy. I ate lunch with Judy about once a month, or as often as possible. I delighted in our discussions and her ability to provide quiet wisdom. 

Although I will miss her in many ways, her sage advice is one of the things I will miss most.  One of my favorite quotes from Judy is, “I never write anything unless it is fun … but fortunately, I think a lot of things are fun.”

Judy Horan