By Edie Gross
Chris Gay ’84 had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Mary Washington when he decided to follow up with a master’s in public administration at George Mason.
To pay for it, he answered an ad he found on a campus job board for a reporter at a Prince William County newspaper.
“If there’d been another job on that job board, I might have done something else,” Gay said. Instead, he parlayed that initial newsroom gig into a job in Hong Kong – and ultimately, a 30-year journalism career.
“I just sort of backed into journalism,” said Gay, who put his advanced degree on hold. “The job became full time, and I just sort of forgot about school.”
Now an editor at The Wall Street Journal in New York, Gay spent the better part of a decade in Hong Kong, writing and editing for the Journal’s Asia edition as well as for Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia’s version of The Economist. He also spent nearly two years in Tokyo at Knight-Ridder Financial News.
As a journalist Gay has chatted with the likes of guitar legend Les Paul and Clare Hollingworth, the British war correspondent who first reported the outbreak of World War II. He covered the historic 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China. And he edited the final stories of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in early 2002.
While at Mary Washington, Gay wrote a political column for the student-run newspaper, then called The Bullet. In the classroom, Gay said his tendency to be pro-Ronald Reagan often put him at odds with longtime political science Professor Lewis Fickett, who served four terms in the Virginia House of Delegates as a populist-leaning Democrat.
“At the time, I thought I was a supporter of Ronald Reagan. I can’t believe that now,” said Gay, who wrote a column for The Free Lance-Star honoring Fickett after his death in May 2016. “Fickett was right about a lot of things. You can’t really see that when you’re a student.”
After graduation, Gay and a classmate spent the next six months traveling through Asia, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents of Thailand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, with side trips to France and the United Kingdom.
“I just wanted to have an overseas experience in my life,” Gay said. “At the time, I didn’t know I’d end up working over there.”
After returning briefly to the U.S., Gay earned enough money working at an Alaskan salmon-packing plant to travel to Berlin, where he stayed with a friend and explored a divided city in the waning days of the Cold War.
He came back to Virginia, intending to earn his master’s degree. But after spending 18 months in a newsroom, Gay decided to return to Asia, this time as a journalist. Hong Kong’s economy was booming, and within two days of his arrival, Gay secured a position at an English-language financial publication.
“I barely knew a stock from a bond,” Gay recalled. “I just learned a lot on the job.”
After a decade in Hong Kong and Tokyo, Gay moved to the Wall Street Journal’s international desk in New York in 1998, where he remains. He also earned that master’s degree, 20 years after he started, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.