AHCJ mourns loss of healthjournalism.org editor Pia Christensen

Pia ChristensenPia Christensen, AHCJ’s longtime website editor, died May 4, 2021, from cancer at her home in Loomis, Calif. Christensen, 50, served as managing editor/online services for the past 15 years and as part of the Missouri School of Journalism staff for the past 20 years.

“We’ve experienced a terrible loss in our AHCJ family,” said Senior Adviser Len Bruzzese, who hired Pia at Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2001 and then “stole her away” to AHCJ in 2006. “It’s a loss to an organization that needed her, to a membership that adored her, and especially to a staff who worked with her, laughed with her and shared so many daily ups and downs with her.”

Pia came to the Missouri campus from copy editing and online producing roles at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Marin (Calif.) Independent Journal after studying journalism at San Francisco State University.

“I have learned so much from Pia in my short time with AHCJ,” said Andrew Smiley, AHCJ’s new Executive Director. “She has been my health journalism tutor.”

Although he never had a chance to meet her in person because of the pandemic, Smiley said Pia’s warmth and energy always came through on phone and video calls.

“She was a true professional and was extremely generous with her time and knowledge,” Smiley said. “I am privileged to have worked with her these past eight months. She leaves a lasting legacy with AHCJ and will be missed dearly.”

Many considered Pia the voice of health journalism on Twitter and other social media outlets. She was featured as a “journalist to follow” by Quill magazine in 2010. Many journalists around the world felt they personally knew Pia because they would follow her posts and even joined the organization because of her.

Ernie and Pia

Courtesy of the Christensen family

“Pia was at the heart of AHCJ,” said AHCJ President Ivan Oransky. “We all learned from her. The image of Pia running around our annual conferences with a camera, then running back to staff HQ to write, edit, and post real-time coverage, is iconic. She always made it all work.”

Pia made many of her friends – both inside and outside of the organization – through a shared love of horses. Pia volunteered for animal welfare organizations and even adopted a rescue horse in Oklahoma, not expected to survive its previous abuse. Pia nursed the horse back to health and “Ernie” moved with her to California a few years later.

“I was blessed to be one of Pia’s countless friends, enjoying the photos and stories about Ernie, the horse she saved from a miserable life,” said Jeff Porter, AHCJ’s director of education. “She loved that horse, and the photos made it clear that Ernie loved Pia. She left us far too soon, but what she left – a passion for journalism, a lesson in caring – makes her unforgettable.”

Susan Cunningham, AHCJ’s events manager, agreed. “I’ll always smile when I think about exploring conference cities with Pia or sitting with our feet up after a full conference day,” she said. “I’ll always hear her laughing.”

Added Tina England, AHCJ’s membership coordinator: “She was always a great person to explore a new city with. She’s been a wonderful colleague and friend and AHCJ will not be the same without her.”

Pia was born in Grand Canyon National Park to Carl and Sue Christensen and raised in different parts of the country. Her father was a park ranger. She is survived by her parents and her boyfriend Tim.

Plans for a memorial service are pending.

AHCJ has created a memorial page at healthjournalism.org/remembering-pia/ where members and friends are asked to offer a remembrance, share a story or post a picture.