In Memoriam: Joe Sharkey

Nov. 16, 2023
Joe Sharkey in Tucson

Photo by Mike Chesnick

Joe Sharkey, noted author, columnist and former adjunct instructor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, died Nov. 6 at the home he shared with his wife, Nancy Sharkey, in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 77.

Revered by his family, friends, and colleagues as a quick-witted storyteller, his career in journalism began in the late 1960s at the Navy News Service while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. 

“Joe was an amazing person. He was a hard-nosed journalist but he was also one of the kindest people you could meet,” Fred Brock, adjunct journalism professor and longtime friend of the Sharkeys, said. 

Joe Sharkey with his birds

Joe Sharkey with his two parrots at his Tucson home.

Photo by Mike Chesnick

After his return from Vietnam, Sharkey established an extensive career in the news industry, taking on roles at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Courier-Post in New Jersey, the Albany Times-Union in New York, and the Wall Street Journal before landing at the New York Times in 1996 as a columnist. 

In 1999, Sharkey began writing the Times’ business travel column “On the Road,” which he continued until retiring in 2015.

It was during his time at the Times that Sharkey survived a mid-air collision above the Amazon rainforest in September 2006. He was traveling home after working on a Business Jet Traveler magazine assignment when a Boeing 737 struck the jet he and six others were aboard. His recollection of the event ran on the front page of the Times just a few days later. 

“My father survived Vietnam, a POW training camp, a long career as a reporter covering stories that would knock your hat off your head, a mid-air plane collision over the Amazon, and close calls in countless ways,” Sharkey’s daughter Caroline wrote in a social media post on Nov. 7. “He had a lot of stories to tell and had a habit of captivating audiences, family, friends, and anyone that came into community with him alike.”

Joe Sharkey books

Three of Joe Sharkey's books are displayed at the School of Journalism.

Photo by Jesse Tellez

In addition to his extensive work with newspapers, Sharkey helped train aspiring journalists as an adjunct professor at the School of Journalism alongside his wife Nancy, who retired from her role as a professor of practice in 2021.

“He was extremely popular with the students and I think it was because he was kind and fair and also tough,” Professor Brock said. 

Sharkey also wrote four nonfiction books and co-authored the novel “Lady Gold” with former NYPD detective Angela Amato.

Sharkey’s 1993 true-crime book, "Above Suspicion: An Undercover FBI Agent, an Illicit Affair, and a Murder of Passion," was turned into a movie released in 2021 starring Emilia Clarke of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Jack Huston of “Boardwalk Empire.”