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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Remembering Jay Speyerer

Jay Speyerer

Jay Speyerer

Last month, Jay Speyerer, my former co-publisher for This Awful-Awesome Life passed away suddenly. I only knew Jay for a few years, but I honestly can’t remember not knowing him. He had a certain way about him – after you met him, you felt like you’d always known him…as if he had always been there with a smile and a snarky comment.

I met Jay through Facebook. We had mutual friends, and we were both authors. I decided to review one of his books for the local magazines I was working for at the time. I ended up buying three of his books and reading them cover to cover.

I interviewed him at his Barnes & Noble “office,” and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much during an interview. Thanks Jay for making work so fun.

I convinced Jay to co-publish an on-line magazine. “C’mon,” I said. “It’ll be fun.” It was fun, and it was also a lot of work. I’m glad I twisted his arm, because Jay was an amazing talent, and he made the people around him be better. I’m better because he was my friend and colleague.

I met Jay’s daughter Emma and members of his family as well as several of his friends at his home. As we gathered together to remember him, I looked around at his bookcases and reflected on Jay’s great love of books. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer and editor.

Jay was dubbed “Pittsburgh’s Mark Twain” and he was very proud of that nickname. He was also proud to be called “dad.” There was a special softness to his voice when he spoke of Emma and his face lit up at the mention of her name. Jay was also a devoted “caregiver/hostage” of his cats, Boo Radley, Jem, and Scout. He was their “Atticus.” To Jay, this meant he was in charge – I’ve seen pictures, and I have my doubts.

I’d like to share a few biographical details about Jay Speyerer and end this tribute to his life with some thoughts from his friends.

Jay Speyerer was a former professional photographer, educator, public speaker, editor, and author. He authored many short stories, four books, and a manual of how to write memoirs. He was a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Speakers Association, cat aficionado, and owner of Legacy Road Communications, LLC.

Jay was a gifted storyteller who often included the exploits of his feline friends in articles, books, and presentations to help illustrate his points about communication.

His works include: The Story of Our Days: Writing your True Story using Techniques of Fiction, The Story System: Guide to the Methodical Memoir, Cat Got Your Thumb? Cat Got Your Treadmill? (Expanded Edition), and Home Cats: A Camera Phone Documentary.

Home Cats: A Camera Phone Documentary is a celebration of the relationship between pet owner and pet told in humorous prose and photos actually taken with a cell phone. On the back cover, Jay shared his philosophy of pet ownership, “Someone always asks me if they can feel love. The answer is it doesn’t matter as long as we can.”

Jay was born in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He credited his mother with sparking his interest in reading and writing early in his life. He gravitated to science fiction and dark fantasy. His favorite authors were Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. He also enjoyed reading Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child and the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. The first short story he wrote was in the science fiction genre. “I submitted it to a magazine, and my story was accepted for publication.”

Jay spent four years in the US Navy serving in the Pacific during the Vietnam War. His photographs of Hong Kong and Japan and shipboard life appeared in the cruise book of the USS Renshaw.

After his discharge from the navy, Jay attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and graduated with a degree in photography/multi-media.   

After moving to Pittsburgh in the mid-seventies, Jay became an instructor at the Art Institute. He taught advertising and portrait photography, various computer skills, and communications during his twenty-five year career.

Jay stressed the importance of writing down family history for future generations. “Your kids might not want to hear your stories now, but I guarantee you they will.” He used humor and storytelling to stress the importance of correct grammar and sentence structure to would-be writers and writers seeking to improve their communication skills. According to Jay, “If your readers find a mistake in grammar or usage, they might wonder what else you got wrong in the actual content.”  


CJ Kowalski

Jay and I spent much time together these past few years. I met him when we both taught at AIP. We taught scriptwriting, feature writing, and enjoyed grammar. Over the past couple of years, we got together about every week or two. While I will miss him terribly, Jay will always hold a special place in my life, my heart. 

His style of humor and his wit, unmatched, will trigger much laughter and wonderful memories.


Last Christmas, Jay and I at Animal Friends Holiday gift market. 

Jay is holding my dog, Cooper. They adored each other. Yet Jay always knew his cats would know he visited Cooper! (This pic was taken about 4-6 weeks ago). 


Rob Kalchthaler

Adult Services Librarian Bethel Park Public Library

I met Jay a few years ago and he was a great man who our patrons enjoyed thoroughly.


Eric Parkinson

My name is Eric Parkinson, and I am a former student of Jay’s from The Art Institute.

I’m from Lancaster County (about 4.5 hours away), and I decided that I wanted to go away to college.  I had a tough time at first.  I’m a pretty reserved, even shy person, and I was in a new town among new people - a completely new setting, 24/7, with no “escape.”

I didn’t like my teachers, except one.  You obviously know who.

I believe the first class of his that I took was Mass Communications.  I was sitting in the classroom, and in he walked.  “Oh great,” I thought. “How am I supposed to learn from this guy that looks too much like John Lithgow?”  Third Rock From the Sun was big back then.

He introduced himself.  “Hello, I’m Jay Speyerer.  And yes, that’s S P E Y E R E R.”

I have no idea what came over me, but I felt I could say, “And which ‘ER’ is silent?”  Without missing a beat, he gave me that grin (you know the one), and said, ‘The first one.’”

I knew, then and there, that there was at least one class, and one teacher that I was going to like.  I was lucky enough to have taken three or four of his classes by the time I graduated.

I was thrilled when I found him on Facebook.  I saw his name, thought let’s see if he remembers me.  I sent him a friend request, and he accepted.  I always looked forward his wit, his observations on life, and his pictures of the cats.

He was one of only three teachers with whom I felt I had a true connection.

Now I hadn’t seen him in person for about 15 years, but had hoped someday I’d get out to Pittsburgh again and see him.  Sadly, it never happened.

It came as quite a shock when I saw on Facebook that he passed.  It hit me a lot harder than I thought it could.  Who ever thought that losing someone you hadn’t seen for 15 years could be so hard?  Now I know; it’s hard - very hard!  I’m even tearing up now.

Thank you for the opportunity to tell you how I remember my teacher, my friend, Jay Speyerer.


Eric O’Brien

I'm sure I told him this in recent years, but Jay was the one to coax out of me a writing ability that I wish I had paid attention to earlier in life. While I was not a bad student, I had some reading comprehension and creative writing issues from the time I hit seventh grade on. When I started at the Art Institute in 1995 and realized that I would have to do some writing for a course or two all I could think of was, "that's it, I'm going to fail because I can't do this stuff!" But little did I know that Jay Speyerer held the key to my success... without the need for a safety net.

I remember the first class that we had with him. I think I was the only one in my age bracket to understand his sense of humor. He introduced himself by saying, "my name is Jay 'SPY-er'... The first E-R is silent!" (I was the only one who got it!) His teaching opened the door to the way I wanted to write in high school. Creatively. With humor. And, still with restraint, allowing for certain grammatical freedoms and exceptions to some rules of the trade. I particularly remember the second quarter at AIP when we took a scriptwriting course from him. That was a lot of fun! There were other courses that I took from Jay that involved computers, and I believe that through those classes I developed a swift ability to do the desktop publishing I have done for several years.

After graduating from AIP, I lost touch with Jay and most of my other instructors. That would've been the norm for 1997. But some years later I reconnected with many of them, including Jay, here on Facebook. I don't know whether he remembered me when I "friended" him or needed a reminder of who I was from my profile. But once he accepted the friend request it felt like we picked up where we left off.

About five years ago I took a refresher course from Jay. It was a four session class in his home with the cat in charge. (This was the cat prior to the most recent co-residents.) It was great reconnecting and, although a little awkward at first, Jay made it relatively simple and non-judgmental. We told stories, shared laughs, and general conversation all while renewing knowledge that he had taught me 15 years prior. The connection continued after that when I assisted him with a couple of his speaking engagements and even connected him with my church where he shared his knowledge with several members of the congregation on more than one occasion.

Jay will go down in my personal history as one of my best teachers and friends. I will miss him.

...and yes, I edited this before I posted it... it even has a beginning, middle and end!


Jay with his friend and fellow author, Annette Dashofy exchanging books and laughs.

Jay with his friend and fellow author, Annette Dashofy exchanging books and laughs.

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