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Josh Gelman, CBS News producer who embodied bravery, hope, dies of cancer

Josh Gelman, a multi-award-winning producer for CBS News’ “48 Hours” died Tuesday evening, January 4, at the age of 62, after a long, courageous battle with cancer. His wife Christina, his brothers Gregg and Matt, and Gregg’s husband Joe were at his side.

In his nearly three-decade career at CBS News, Josh displayed his numerous talents as an editor, producer, writer, and photographer.

Josh Gelman/Facebook

In his nearly three-decade career at CBS News, Josh displayed his numerous talents as an editor, producer, writer, and photographer. His supreme gift was finding, capturing, and deploying images that revealed the emotion and deeper meanings at the heart of every story. And his stories took him seemingly everywhere: from covering the Eco-Challenge race in Borneo; to exploring the inner workings of Hollywood; to reporting on some of the world’s most compelling true-crime sagas such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the murder of Martha Moxley, the trial of Jodi Arias and the case of “Fatal Vision” killer Jeffrey MacDonald.

Josh was also beloved as a colleague who always took the time to mentor, to teach, to help.  Years since they last worked with Josh, many producers and editors across the industry still regard the time they spent with him as a pivotal moment in their career.

Josh truly understood the power of storytelling.  And it was a story that changed his life forever.

Colby and Josh 

Josh Gelman/Facebook

In 1998, Josh began documenting the journey of a 12-year-old girl named Colby who was being treated for leukemia. He spent a great deal of time with Colby and formed a lasting bond with her family.

“The experience made a deep impression on me,” he later said.

Josh stayed in touch with Colby’s family, even after she died the following summer. He was so moved by his experience with her that he became a regular platelet donor, on the chance that he could save someone else’s life. Nine years later, Josh was preparing to give platelets at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital’s blood donor room when he got an inkling that something might be wrong with his own blood.

“They plugged me into the machine and then unplugged me right away,” Josh later recalled. “A doctor came in and said, ‘You need to see a hematologist.'”

Josh was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia, a condition involving the blood and marrow. It was treatable with medication, but there was a chance the condition could progress. Unfortunately, it did.

In 2014, Josh was diagnosed with a rare disorder called myelofibrosis, which can develop into leukemia. He needed new stem cells from a bone marrow transplant, but there were no matches. With the clock ticking, he was treated by Dr. Juliet Barker, a leading expert in cord blood transplants, which use stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta of healthy newborns. It was a relatively new approach for a diagnosis like Josh’s, and Dr. Barker’s team performed the procedure on him in January of 2015.

It would be a long road back, but Josh’s wide circle of family and friends, including his colleagues at CBS News and “48 Hours,” were with him on the journey.

In the beginning, there were small victories, frequent setbacks, and many difficult days.  But Josh, an avid sportsman and extreme athlete, was up for the challenge.

“I’m a strong believer in taking things one step at a time,” he said. “I just told myself that all I have to do is take the next step. I never worried about how I was going to get over the finish line.”

In 2017, Josh crossed more than one finish line.

In May 2017, Josh completed the Brooklyn Half Marathon in two-and-a-half hours.

Josh Gelman/Facebook

In May, he completed the Brooklyn Half Marathon in two-and-a-half hours. That same year he married Christina Leijonhufvud, the CEO of BlueMark, an impact investment company.  Josh also became a beloved father to Christina’s daughter, Eva.

Josh and Christina celebrate with Eva, center, on their wedding day in 2017.

Josh Gelman/Facebook

Josh remained grateful to his medical team and was committed to helping them save the lives of others. He rode in “Cycle for Survival” to raise money for rare cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering.  This was on top of the years he spent as an athlete and coach with “Team in Training,” an organization that uses endurance sports competition to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Numerous cancer survivors and others credit Josh’s coaching with helping them complete races that they never dreamed of even competing in.

Josh rode in “Cycle for Survival” to raise money for rare cancer research.

Josh Gelman/Facebook, MSKCC.org

And Josh made time in his busy, active life to resume his fly fishing pilgrimages to Montana, to celebrate each and every milestone with Christina, and to teach Eva to rock climb.

Josh shared a thank you message to his doctor during a 2018 fishing trip.

MSKCC.org

In the years after his recovery, Josh did some of the finest work of his career at CBS News. Most notably, he served as a senior producer on “Bravery and Hope: 7 Days on The Front Line.” This award-winning documentary featured the work of a team of CBS News journalists embedded with emergency physicians and critical care specialists, struggling to save patients suffering from COVID-19 at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx at the height of the pandemic.

Bravery and Hope: two words that defined Josh Gelman.

In November of 2020, Josh shared a note with the “48 Hours”‘ staff that after six years, his cancer was back, despite his successful stem cell transplant.  Josh shared his news, he said, because he thought it might help someone.

“I always feel it’s better to share this stuff as you never know who else I could help with my experience or find help with someone else’s,” he wrote. “Though this is another mountain to climb, I’m so lucky to have my family friends and co-workers to get me up that hill. We are feeling optimistic, I am strong, and I take great comfort that I have the people in my life that I do.”

Josh climbed that mountain, with his family, friends and colleagues behind him, until he succumbed this past Tuesday. While his loss is felt deeply, many reflected admiringly on his achievements, his countless acts of kindness and friendship, and his courage.

“Josh was the bravest person I have ever known — quietly fighting cancer. Never saying much about it,” said “48 Hours” executive producer Judy Tygard. “Just pushing on.”

In addition to his wife, Christina, and his daughter, Eva, Josh is survived by his mother, Joan Gelman—a former writer and producer at CBS News— his father Warren Gelman, his stepmother Susan Gelman, his brothers and sisters Gregg Gelman and Joseph Hershberger, Wendy and Rhys Gwyn, Matt and Meredith Gelman, Herbie and Kalle Gelman, Nancy and Eric Chilton, and Helaine and John Winer, and nieces and nephews Gracie, Lindsay, Jack, Alexa, Ryan, Jake, Hunter, and Olivia. 

Donations can be made in Josh’s honor to Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cycle for Survival



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