ATLANTA (AP) — Carol Druga, a veteran Associated Press editor who was a newsroom mentor with an acerbic wit and a deep affection for Pittsburgh sports, has died. She was 50.
Druga had been treated for cancer over the past several months and died Monday after being sickened by an infection. She began her AP career in the Indianapolis bureau in 2004 before moving to Atlanta to work on the AP's South Regional Desk in 2008. While there, she worked several years as a shift supervisor, juggling countless breaking stories from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. She moved to the sports desk in 2015.
Brian Carovillano, AP's vice president of U.S. news, remembered Druga as a collaborative editor, "the kind every reporter loves to work with because she cared so much about the work."
"She was also an absolute gem of a human being who was the best kind of colleague," Carovillano said. "She managed to find the humor in every situation. Her big laugh would roll across the newsroom and cheer everyone up."
In 2010, she spent a month overseeing the AP's Mid-Atlantic bureau in Washington and coordinated coverage of the massive blizzard known then as "Snowmageddon." Before joining the AP, she worked for more than 10 years at The Herald-Argus newspaper in LaPorte, Indiana.
AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll called Druga "a special person who upheld AP's values and worked every minute to make all of us better."
"She was a joy to know, the best kind of colleague," Carroll said. "And we all are better — better journalists and better people — for having known her."
Affectionately known by friends and co-workers simply as "Droogs," she was much beloved for quips delivered in her booming, Pittsburgh-accented voice in the newsroom. Always blunt but never unkind, Druga pushed her colleagues to get more information, get it fast and get it right. When a piece still wasn't hitting the mark, she could make a jumbled story friendly to readers in minutes.
"'Droogs' — she would be perturbed if I called her 'Carol' even at a time like this — was the most loyal friend or colleague anyone could meet," said AP correspondent Lisa Pane, who during her time as South Editor was Druga's supervisor. "She was honest and blunt but caring at the same time. Passionate about the people and things she most loved. She lived life to the fullest in a no-holds-barred kind of way."
Druga was a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan. She rooted for her "Buccos" during baseball season, hoping year after year that her long-suffering Pirates would win a championship. And she beamed with pride when her hometown Penguins brought a Stanley Cup trophy back to the city.
Druga was a mainstay at her favorite neighborhood haunt, Steinbeck's, where she would hold court with friends who became like family to her. When she wasn't there, she was often relaxing at home with her constant companion, Lady, the dog more often called by the nicknames "Goon" or "Goonus."
Each New Year's Day, Druga set up several TVs at her home, welcoming her friends to watch the day's football games and sip beer and bloody marys at the annual event she once dubbed "Bowls, Beers and Bloodies." Guests who arrived early might have been lucky enough to sample the pierogis she made each year, a proud nod to her Polish heritage.
The highlight of her year, however, was her annual pilgrimage back to Pittsburgh to visit her beloved siblings, nieces, nephews and other loved ones.
Deputy sports editor Noreen Gillespie said the AP would "deeply miss our teammate."
"Throughout her illness, I kept telling her that we were stronger as a team when she was here," Gillespie said. "She was aggressive, but reporters trusted her. She was firm, but could joke just as quickly to put someone at ease. She was the voice you wanted on the other end of the line when a story got stressful."