Hiaasen, 59, the brother of best-selling author and journalist Carl Hiaasen, had been a feature writer at the Baltimore Sun for 15 years before moving to the Capital in 2010 as an assistant editor.
Lately, he had been the author of a regular Sunday column.
A native of Fort Lauderdale and a graduate of the University of Florida, he had been a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, and an anchor and reporter at news-talk radio stations in the South.
“I just want people to know what an incredibly gentle, generous and gifted guy my brother was,” Carl Hiaasen said in a telephone interview Thursday night.
“He was an unforgettably warm and uplifting presence as a father and brother,” he said.
“But he also had dedicated his whole life to journalism,” he said. “And he loved that paper. He loved that newsroom. And he loved the idea of hometown, old-fashioned journalism.”
Hiaasen was a Floridian and a Marylander, a 6-foot-5 cynic and a softy.
In one recent column he wrote about a lost cat:
“First, leveled at me have been longstanding accusations that I’m a romantic and sentimentalist (guilty, guilty). So what if I can’t pass a missing cat/but mainly missing dog poster and not blink? So what if I always stop in my tracks and spin stories for missing cats but mainly dogs?
Haven’t we all gone missing at one time or another?”
In another column, he mourned the passing of rock star and fellow Florida native Tom Petty:
“What is good music? Good music is the music you put on when you’re alone or you don’t want to be alone, and either way the music makes you feel something in your day-job guts. And if it ain’t love or heartache or defiance or hope, then it’s close enough.”
Last Mother’s Day he wrote of his late mother:
“Like a neutral biographer, she stowed the chapters of my life in all their messy hope. She logged my job changes, relationship changes, address changes, mood changes, hair color changes — her youngest getting gray at 28?! Well, dear, it looks good on you, she would say.”
And in the grip of last winter, he wrote about snow snorkeling, in which he donned fins, mask and snorkel and plunged his face into a backyard mound of snow. “No marine life was visible,” he observed.
“He was a great colleague and a real craftsman when it came to writing,” his former editor at the Baltimore Sun, William K. Marimow, said. “He really treasured good writing and labored over every sentence and every word in his stories.”
Regarding his famous brother, Carl, Marimow said: “I think [Rob] really admired his brother, but he wanted to make sure that he carved out his own niche. And he did it with great success.”
Carl Hiaasen, 65, said: “He was my little brother, but he was in so many ways larger than I am as a person.”
“I’ve been in this business for 42 years and . . . watching the horror unfold on cable news and writing my columns about it and all,” he said. “And yet this is a horror that unfolds in this country it seems like every few weeks.”
Rob was also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
He was the youngest of four children, and is survived by his wife, Maria, a son and two daughters, his brother said.
Thursday night, as fears for his welfare grew, friends posted their concerns on his Facebook page.
“So worried Rob Hiaasen,” one wrote. “Want to hear your voice and know you’re OK.”
“Rob, hoping and praying you are safe,” said another.
“Rob would get uncomfortable with me saying this out loud, but Rob, I love you,” a third friend wrote.
In April, he updated his Facebook cover photo.
He stands on a beach with his back to the camera looking out over turquoise water with dark clouds over head. He’s wearing a blue T-shirt and white cap, and he’s carrying his shoes.
Joe Heim, Arelis R. Hernández and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.