Seymour Topping, who as a teenager dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent after reading Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China,” and who went on to become a globe-trotting giant of American journalism, died on Nov. 8 at White Plains Hospital in New York. He was 98.
First as a wire service reporter and then as a correspondent with The New York Times, Topping was a witness to some of the most momentous events of the 20th century, including the Chinese civil war and the rise of Mao Zedong, the Cold War in Europe, and the start of the war in Vietnam. He later became foreign editor and then managing editor of The Times, helping to lead it into the digital age. After retiring from The Times in 1993 after 34 years at the newspaper, he became a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, holding both positions until 2002.
An active Silurian who even into his 90s attended occasional luncheon meetings, he was the recipient of the club’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. His acceptance speech — a highlight reel of his colorful career — is available on our web site. To access it, click here.
After graduating from the University of Missouri’s journalism school in 1943, Topping — known as Top to everyone he worked with — served as an Army infantry officer until 1946. He was on duty in Manila when his military obligation ended and his career of more than half a century in journalism began. From 1946 to 1959, he was a wire service reporter, first covering China’s civil war for International News Service and then reporting for The Associated Press from Nanking and Saigon, where he was the first American correspondent since the end of World War II, and later from London and Berlin, reporting on Cold War issues. In 1949, when he was still with AP, he scored a world beat on the historic fall of Nanking to Mao’s People’s Liberation Army — thus ending the Chinese civil war — a story he recounts with barely disguised amusement in his speech to the Silurians.
He was hired by The Times in 1959. The following year, as Moscow bureau chief, he broke the story of the U-2 spy plane, then covered Soviet space shots, the period of de-Stalinization and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. From 1963 to 1966, as Southeast Asia bureau chief, he reported on early American military activity in Saigon and wars in Laos and Cambodia. In 1966, The Times named him foreign news editor, a title since changed to international news editor, putting him in charge of 40 correspondents. As an editor, he continued to write for The Times and its Sunday magazine, traveling around the globe to interview world leaders ranging from the shah of Iran and Fidel Castro to Israel’s Golda Meir and King Hussein of Jordan.
In his travels, he was usually accompanied by Audrey Ronning, a writer and photojournalist he had met in Nanking — her father was a Canadian diplomat to China — and whom he married in 1949. A testament to the peripatetic nature of Topping’s work was that each of the couple’s five daughters were born at his postings — Susan in Saigon, Karen and Lesley in London, Robin in Berlin and Joanna in Bronxville, N.Y.
After promotions to assistant managing editor, then deputy managing editor, he was named managing editor in 1977, outranked on the masthead of The Times only by executive editor A.M. Rosenthal. He and Rosenthal were among those who reshaped The Times, introducing such innovations as separate metropolitan and business sections; new feature sections; Sunday sections for the suburbs of New York; a national edition; and magazine supplements. The moves heralded major financial gains for The Times.
In 1987, Topping was named director of editorial development for the organization’s 32 regional newspapers, filling that role until retiring in 1993. He also wrote four books. They are “Journey Between Two Chinas” (1972); his 2010 memoir, “On the Front Lines of the Cold War: An American Correspondent’s Journal from the Chinese Civil War to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam”; and two novels, “The Peking Letter: A Novel of the Chinese Civil War” (1999); and “Fatal Crossroads: A Novel of Vietnam 1945” (2005).
Dan Andrews, who for more than 20 years was the spokesman for two consecutive borough presidents of Queens, died on Oct. 12 at his home in Bronxville, N.Y., after battling cancer for several years. He was 72.
Andrews, a 1970 graduate of St. John’s University and a long-time Silurian, began his journalism career as a caption writer at United Press International in New York. He became a reporter and eventually was named chief of UPI’s City Hall Bureau. In 1990, he left UPI and headed over to Queens Borough Hall as the spokesman for Claire Shulman, then the borough president. He performed the same duties for Shulman’s successor, Helen Marshall, until retiring at the end of 2013. In an interview with the Daily News, he was asked to cite some of his most vivid memories of his time as a spokesman for the borough presidents.
“Going to Elmhurst Hospital with Claire after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks,” he said. “The staff was told to expect hundreds of people. It was heartbreaking. They had no survivors to treat.”
In the same Daily News article, Andrews was asked what “lessons” he had learned as a reporter and as a spokesman.
“After 40 years in the communications business,” he answered, “I am still amazed at how badly so many of us communicate. We frequently don’t say what we mean, or mean what we say . . . and too many people hold grudges. Effective communication is essential. Words are powerful. They can inspire or disappoint, hurt or heal, and sadden or gladden the feeling of others. Most important, words can generate the sound of laughter from a child.”
Linda Goetz Holmes
Linda Goetz Holmes was a journalist and historian who spent more than 30 years researching and writing about the treatment of American servicemen who were prisoners of the Japanese during World War II. In addition to being a determined investigative reporter, she was the first historian appointed to advise the U.S. government’s Interagency Work Group, formed in 1999 under the aegis of the National Archives to locate and declassify material about World War II war crimes. She wrote three influential books that put a spotlight on the experiences and exploitation of POWs.
A past president (2004-2006) of the Silurians Press Club when it was still known as the Society of the Silurians, Holmes died in San Simeon by the Sound, a nursing home in Greenport, N.Y., on Aug. 18, following a lingering illness. She was 87.
A native of White Plains, N.Y., and a long-time resident of Shelter Island, N.Y., Holmes graduated from Wellesley College in 1955. She was hired by the television production department of Ted Bates & Co., a major New York ad agency, then joined CBS Television before devoting herself to producing books about prisoners of war and how they were treated.
The first, which appeared in 1994, was “4,000 Bowls of Rice,” the story of Allied POWs who were put to work building the infamous Burma Railway — the one depicted in the movie “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” The title of her book was based on a comment from Cecil Dickson of Australia, an ex-POW who was interviewed by Holmes at a dinner on Shelter Island, where she’d invited him to speak. Noticing a serving dish heaped with rice, Dickson told Holmes he’d eaten nothing but rice for more than 3,800 consecutive meals, before adding, “I still enjoy it.”
Holmes also wrote “Unjust Enrichment: How Japan’s Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs” (2000), in which she tracked down and interviewed scores of ex-prisoners, got permission to read their diaries as well as previously classified documents, and laid bare the conditions under which military captives became forced labor for Japanese businesses, a contentious issue that arose between the U.S. and Japan in the postwar years. Her third book, “Guests of the Emperor: The Secret History of Japan’s Mukden POW Camp” (2014), revealed, among other things, that Americans at Mukden — a Mitsubishi facility in Manchuria where Japanese fighter planes were being built — were subjected to experiments carried out by a Japanese biological warfare team.
In addition to her activities with the Silurians, Holmes was a board member of the Overseas Press Club Foundation and an associate member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. She also belonged to a highly select group: Silurians whose fathers were Silurians. She was the daughter of one-time Silurian Theodore Goetz — a former vice president of Westchester Rockland Newspapers. The distinction of being a second-generation Silurian is shared among today’s members only by Allan Dodds Frank, a past president (2013-2015) and a current board member. His father, the late Morton Frank, publisher and chairman of Family Weekly magazine, was president of the club in 1987.
Gail Sheehy, a journalist and author whose expertise in interpreting cultural trends informed much of her published work, including “Passages,” the best-known and most influential of her 17 books, died of complications of pneumonia on Aug. 24, at a hospital in Southampton, N.Y. She was 83.
In addition to her books, Sheehy wrote major articles for New York magazine, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and other publications, including profiles of such world leaders as Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev and Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Her prose style — what came to be called “creative nonfiction” — put her among the top ranks of the era’s budding cadre of “New Journalists” during the 1960s and 1970s.
Sheehy, who was born in Mamaroneck, N.Y., in 1936, graduated from the University of Vermont in 1958 with a degree in English and home economics. She married Albert F. Sheehy in 1960 and a year later they moved to Rochester, N.Y., where he was a medical student, while she worked as a customer rep at J.C. Penney and then as a fashion coordinator at McCurdy’s department store. That led to her first job on a newspaper, when in 1961 she joined the fashion staff at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Not long after, the Sheehys moved to New York. She worked at the World Telegram briefly in 1963 and then wrote for the Herald Tribune from 1963 to 1966, when she turned freelance and began writing magazine articles about some of the key events of that time, including Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and the concert at Woodstock, N.Y. She was divorced in 1968 and became one of the original contributors to New York magazine, founded that year by Milton Glaser and Clay Felker, who in 1984 would become her second husband. They remained married until his death in 2008.
In 1970, while at Columbia University on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship, Sheehy studied under the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who became a mentor and encouraged her to become a cultural interpreter. In 1976, her book “Passages,” a study of the milestones and crises of human life, was published. Even though Sheehy reportedly said she expected it “to sink with little trace,” it sold 10 million copies, was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than three years and was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 10 most influential books of modern times. It also inspired Sheehy to write a number of other “passages” books, including “The Silent Passage” (1992), about menopause; “New Passages” (1995), an exploration of life after 50; “Understanding Men’s Passages” (1998); “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence” (2010), written after serving as Felker’s primary caregiver; and her most recent book, “Daring: My Passages: A Memoir” (2014).
In her more than 50-year career, she received numerous honors, including seven Front Page Awards for Distinguished Journalism from the New York Newswomen’s Club; two Lifetime Achievement Awards, one from Books for a Better Life (2013) and one from East Hampton’s Guild Hall (2017). She was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1992. At her death, she was working on her 18th book, about millennials, a group she defined as “the pathfinders of tomorrow’s world.”
Pete Hamill, the legendary journalist whose columns and books cast a luminous light on New York City in a voice both sensitive and hard-hitting, died on Aug. 5, four days after fracturing his hip when he fell at his home in Brooklyn after returning from a dialysis treatment. He was taken to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he died of heart and kidney failure. He was 85.
Hamill, a long-time member of the Silurians, is the only person who ever won the club’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1989) as well as its Peter Kihss Award (1992). He was a featured luncheon speaker on several occasions and always drew a big crowd eager to hear more of his stories about covering the politicians, entertainers, athletes and other assorted characters he wrote about for more than 50 years. His tales of New York reflected Hamill’s background as a street-savvy guy from Brooklyn with a limited formal education — he was a high school dropout — but with a keen eye for observing the life around him and reproducing it in punchy prose that sometimes approached the poetic.
A New York institution as a reporter, Hamill was a columnist, an author, a novelist and the editor of New York’s two major tabloid newspapers, The Post in 1993 and The Daily News in 1997. He wrote for The Village Voice and New York Newsday. He was selected by the Museum of the City of New York as one of the 400 most influential New Yorkers of the last 400 years, yet he was a school dropout at 15 who got an honorary degree from his high school a month after he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from St. John’s University.
He lived at times in Barcelona, Dublin, Mexico City, San Juan, Rome, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Santa Fe, but there is only one city he called home and it was not one of those. With passion and elegance, he wrote more than two dozen books and countless newspaper columns and magazine articles, yet his first love was cartooning. He covered urban riots in America and wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Northern Ireland, but wrote sensitively about the trials and triumphs of ordinary New Yorkers, always with a strong rooting interest in the underdog. He chronicled presidential campaigns and New York neighborhood politics. He was in that hotel kitchen in Los Angeles in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down, and in Ray Robinson’s dressing room in 1965 after the great champion’s last fight. In his spare time, he wrote the liner notes on a Bob Dylan album, “Blood on the Tracks.” It won a Grammy in 1975.
When Hamill was 11, he was earning money delivering The Brooklyn Eagle. He won a scholarship to the prestigious Regis High School, but dropped out to become an apprentice sheet metal worker in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and attend night classes at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts). In 1952, he enlisted in the Navy. Returning to civilian life, he spent a year in Mexico City, trying to become a painter and learning instead that writing was his game.
He was hired by The Post in 1960, leaving during a long newspaper strike to become a European correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post. In 1965, after a brief stint as a feature writer at The New York Herald Tribune, he returned to The Post as a columnist. In 1993, during a chaotic period at The Post, a time when ownership went from Rupert Murdoch to Abe Hirschfeld, a parking lot mogul with no experience in media. Hamill left in 1997, was hired by Mortimer Zuckerman to run the newsroom of The Daily News, and left after a contentious eight months.
In addition to The Saturday Evening Post, magazines in which his articles have appeared include New York, The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy and Rolling Stone. His books range from “A Drinking Life,” a 1994 memoir that traced his journey into alcoholism and how he overcame it, to a 1998 extended essay called “News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century,” his thoughts about newspapers and how they should be covering cities, to “Downtown: My Manhattan,” a journey through time that combines history and contemporary observations of the city he loved.
Christopher Dickey, a veteran international correspondent, editor and author, died following a heart attack on July 16, at his home in Paris, where he was based as foreign editor of The Daily Beast. He was 68.
In addition to reporting from at least 42 countries over the course of a four-decade career, Dickey was the author of seven books, including a memoir about his problematic relationship with his father, James Dickey, the former Poet Laureate of the United States and the author of the best-selling novel “Deliverance.”
A native of Nashville, Dickey began his career in journalism after earning a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1972 and a master’s in documentary filmmaking from Boston University in 1974. He was hired by the Washington Post, covering Central America and then the Middle East. In 1986, he joined Newsweek, becoming a bureau chief in Cairo and then the magazine’s Paris editor before moving to the Daily Beast. He was an occasional contributor to The New York Times Book Review and made frequent appearances on MSNBC.
His reputation as one of the most knowledgeable journalists covering world affairs was reflected not only in his dispatches from here and abroad, but in the scope of his books. He is the author of “With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua” (1986); “Expats: Travels in Arabia, from Tripoli to Teheran” (1990); “Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force – the NYPD” (2009); and “Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South” (2015). He wrote two novels about terrorism: “Innocent Blood” (1997) and “The Sleeper” (2004). Dickey is also the author of “Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son,” which was published in 1998, a year after his father’s death and in which he said he had become a foreign correspondent partly to get far away from home.
Albert C. Lasher
Albert C. Lasher, a long-time Silurian, died at his Manhattan home on May 12 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 91. After working on the Brooklyn College newspaper, Vanguard, and earning a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Lasher joined the Wall Street Journal in 1952 as a reporter. He later became an editor at Business Week and Tide magazines.
He later moved into the business world, heading corporate relations for the Lily-Tulip Cup Corp. He went on to partner with his wife, Stephanie, to start Disposable Marketing Services, a company that became a leader in the paper-goods and food-service fields. Along the way, he served as chairman of The Fonda Group, a paper-goods company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1967, he and Carter Henderson, a former Wall Street Journal colleague, co-authored “20 Million Careless Capitalists,” a pioneering exploration of the concept of shareholder value.
In addition to his life-long support of journalism programs, Lasher served on the board of the Alvin Ailey Ballet Company and as the founder of the Inter-racial Council on Business Opportunity, which helped minority businesses start and grow. He was also a talented magician and teacher and for many years headed the New York chapter of the Society of Young Magicians.
Patricia Bosworth, an actress and model before embarking on a long career as a magazine writer and an author of well-received biographies and two memoirs, died on April 2 in Manhattan. She was 86. The cause of death was complications of pneumonia brought on by the coronavirus.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1955, Ms. Bosworth was accepted as a student at the Actors Studio. Her classmates included Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. She wrote of that time in her 2001 biography of Brando. Her other biographies were of Montgomery Clift (1978), the photographer Diane Arbus (1984) and Jane Fonda (2011). She performed in several regional theaters and appeared on screen in the 1959 movie “The Nun’s Story,” which starred Audrey Hepburn.
Her first memoir, “Anything Your Little Heart Desires,” was a 1997 bestseller that focused on her father, Bartley Crum, one of the lawyers who defended the blacklisted “Hollywood 10” during the Red Scare of the late 1940s, and included the suicides of her younger brother and her father. Her second memoir, “The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan,” was published in 2017. Her final book, slated for publication next year, is “Protest Song: Paul Robeson, J. Edgar Hoover and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Equality.”
In addition to her books, Ms. Bosworth was a contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 1988. She became a journalist in the 1960s, as an editor at Woman’s Day. From 1969 to 1972, she was senior editor at McCall’s, then spent two years as managing editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Her award-winning work has also appeared in such publications as The New York Times, New York magazine, The Nation, Esquire, Mirabella and Working Woman, and she has taught at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and at New York University.
Gladys Bourdain, a copy editor at The New York Times for 24 years, died on Jan. 10 in New York after suffering deteriorating health for several years. She was 85. In addition to being the mother of Anthony Bourdain, the late chef, author, TV host and travel documentarian, Ms. Bourdain had her own media career. After marrying and raising two sons, Anthony and Christopher (a banker), she led the life of a homemaker in Leonia, N.J., until 1973, when she joined the Bergen Record’s entertainment section. In 1978, she was named entertainment editor of The Trib, a short-lived startup newspaper that published only on weekdays. Ms. Bourdain moved to Paris in 1980, working as a translator for Agence France-Presse. She returned to New York in 1984 and was hired by The Times as a copy editor in the Culture and Metro sections. She also wrote numerous articles for The Times, as well as for Opera News and other music-related publications. On several occasions until her retirement in 2008, she represented Guild members in negotiations with Times management. In 1997, Ms. Bourdain translated “On Stage, Off Stage: A Memoir” by French opera singer Regine Crespin, a close friend. In 1999, through an acquaintance at The New Yorker, she helped her son Anthony submit an essay to the magazine about what goes on behind the kitchen doors of restaurants in New York City. It was called “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” became the basis of his best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” and ignited her son’s career as one of the best-known travel, food and culture commentators of modern times.