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Former Detroit News editor juggled many hats but put family above all

Steve Pardo lived with abandon.

He spent his life working for newspapers while embracing numerous, colorful side gigs: gourmet cook, wedding officiant, fisherman and hat collector. Above all, he was a family man.

He loved spending time with both sides of his family and doting on his nieces and nephews, including a few loved ones who weren't related but referred to him as "uncle." 

Former Detroit News reporter and editor Steve Pardo pauses during a trip to Spain.

One of his favorite days of the year was when he would go perch fishing on Lake Erie with his dad, brother-in-law, uncle and friends. The following day, the men would bring home their catch for a fish fry for the rest of the family.

"He loved the camaraderie," said his wife, Leslie Pardo. "The first time he said, 'We are going to go perch fishing ... and if we don't catch enough fish, we'll have hamburgers seasoned with the salt of my tears.'"

Mr. Pardo, a former Detroit News reporter and editor, died suddenly on Saturday, June 27, 2020, after spending an afternoon enjoying lunch with his wife. He was 50. The cause of death was unclear but for months he had been battling a rare kidney disease.

A Livonia resident who spent his early years in Detroit before his family moved to Milford, Mr. Pardo began his career at a newspaper in  Ohio before landing a reporting job at C&G Newspapers' Warren Weekly. He then spent the next 22 years with The News, covering high-profile legal cases such as the controversial Detroit water and sewer shutoffs in 2014. He later joined The News' editing ranks.

While reporting on holiday shopping in 1999 at Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Mr. Pardo met his wife, then Leslie Kollin.

The couple married soon after, with Mr. Pardo converting to Judaism before the wedding. During their 18-year marriage, they often spoke on Facebook about their love for one another, using phrases such as "my rock" and "the love of my life." Leslie listed Mr. Pardo in the contact list in her phone as "Home" because that's what he was, she said.

One of Leslie's most cherished memories with her husband came during a 2016 trip to Spain, when he surprised her with a trip to Boqueria Market, an open-air food emporium where they drank wine and latte while sampling olives, tapas and jamon, a Spanish ham.

"Our moments together were really special," said Leslie. "His happiness made me happy, and I know my happiness made him happy."

In his free time, Mr. Pardo was an accomplished cook and gardener. 

He cooked all of the meals for his wife. In summer, he grew heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers, making his own hot sauce. He also cured and smoked pork belly, and gave away his bounty to friends.

Mr. Pardo frequently won chili cook-off competitions. He became a food competition judge, tasting and casting his votes for the region's best barbecue, pies and pizza. With a team, he won two Iron Chef competitions during the annual Opa Fest at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Troy. 

“He didn’t work as a professional chef, but I’m convinced he could have if he wanted to,” said Charlie Ramirez, a former Detroit News colleague who worked as one of Mr. Pardo’s sous-chefs during the 2015 Opa Fest. They won.

Ramirez said Mr. Pardo was the kind of friend you aspire to be.

“He made your life brighter if you were lucky enough that he came into it, even for a little while,” he said.

Mr. Pardo also was a member of the Supper Club, a group of several Detroit News journalists and friends who have gathered every other month for 15 years to enjoy show-stopping dinner parties.

David Josar, a former News colleague who was once a member of the Supper Club, said that Mr. Pardo "is the only person I know who would design a multi-course meal exclusively around pork belly.”

“Steve was the wild card at any gathering," said Josar, now a foreign service officer in India for the U.S. State Department. "No questions asked. But you wanted him there because he made life so much more interesting with his stories, enthusiasm and generosity."

Mr. Pardo enjoyed traveling, frequently going on cruises with his wife, their parents and other family members.

Mr. Pardo also was an ordained minister, a title he earned online after joining the Universal Life Church. He officiated the nuptials of dozens of family and friends, and one memorial service. 

George Hunter, a Detroit News reporter and longtime friend, remembers Mr. Pardo officiating at his marriage to Lynn Rosenthal in 2016 in front of the tiger at Comerica Park, wearing his trademark top hat. 

"He did an absolutely wonderful job," said Hunter. "That’s something I’ll always take with me."

Hunter called Mr. Pardo an "intelligent iconoclast" who pushed him to think differently on various topics. 

"The best conversations are the ones where you don’t walk away agreeing with the guy," said Hunter. "But he gave you some insight. He was a friend. I got something out of those conversations."

Aside from a top hat, Mr. Pardo had a vibrant hat collection including fedoras, newsboys and a panama hat. On special occasions, he also wore a kilt.

Mr. Pardo's older sister, Chris Updike, said he was the kind of person who "would give you the shirt off his back."

"If you needed anything, he would give it to you," she said. "He took care of Leslie. We would take care of each other all the time."

One of Mr. Pardo's last acts was to give his tissue and bones to Gift of Life Michigan, the state's organ and tissue recovery program, to which he had signed up to be a donor. His donation will help up to 70 people, according to his wife. Her mother, Sharyanne Kollin, was so inspired by Mr. Pardo, she is planning to join the registry in her son-in-law's memory.

A private funeral will be held on Tuesday. It will be officiated by Rabbi Paul Yedwab of Temple Israel. He will be buried at Clover Hill Cemetery in Birmingham.