Lance Gay; November 20, 2011, SHNS war and Washington correspondent, dead at 67
This is merely a quick notice. Details to follow when we know.
WASHINGTON - Lance Gay, who roamed Washington and the world as a senior correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service for more than two decades, died Sunday at his family's home in Brookville, Md., from respiratory failure. Gay, 67, had retired from Scripps Howard in 2006 but continued researching several historical writing projects in recent years.
He joined Scripps in 1981, and covered national beats ranging from the Pentagon to Congress, as well as labor, environmental and food safety issues. From 1989 until 1995, he was Scripps' chief European correspondent, based in Amsterdam. From that post, he covered the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wars in the Balkans.
Gay began his journalism career at the Washington Evening Star. He started out as a copy boy in 1965, advancing to police reporter and later covered the Maryland and Virginia statehouses. In 1975, he was promoted to the national desk covering Congress and was assigned as labor and environmental reporter when the Star folded in 1981.
He was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and grew up in Britain and Canada until coming to the United States in 1963.
Although his career was in journalism, Gay was a historian by training and interest. He attended the University of Maryland, receiving a bachelor's degree in history in 1966 and a master's degree concentrating on the Tudor-Stuart period of British history in 1999. Work on his doctoral degree continued into retirement.
Throughout his career, Gay served as a mentor and resource to hosts of news interns and Washington novices, giving a signature hours-long tour of the Capitol that taught both the ins and outs of access and decorum for journalists as well as historical and architectural details of the building.
Gay served as secretary of the Standing Committee of Correspondents in Congress from 1985 and 1987.
Among his journalism awards were the Frank G. Porter award for labor and business reporting in 1979; the distinguished urban journalism award from the Urban Coalition in 1981 and a National Headliner Award for coverage of Iraq in 1991.
Plans for a memorial service are pending. (Contact reporter Lee Bowman at bowmant(at)shns.com.) (Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
WASHINGTON - Lance Gay was an immensely talented reporter and unlike so many of that breed no prima donna. Thus, when The Washington Star folded it was a mystery why no other publication had snapped him up. His explanation was that he had vowed not to take a job until he had found one for a Star librarian with a criminal record. I told Lance that while Scripps Howard News Service did not have an opening for a bookie it did have one for him and to just come on over when he was ready. He did, arriving in a monstrous old Chevy sagging on its rear springs from the weight of his unfinished doctoral thesis in the trunk. The thesis went into storage and the Chevy was replaced by an MG of astonishing unreliability, followed by a succession of tiny Mazda Miatas. This in itself wouldn't be noteworthy except that Lance was a very large man. As a labor reporter covering the AFL-CIO's regular gatherings in Miami Beach, photos of him lounging on a deck chair would regularly appear in the nation's newspapers with cutlines broadly hinting that here was a labor goon vacationing on the members' dues. He was a fearless but not reckless reporter although he did manage to be taken prisoner by the Contras on the Nicaraguan border until it was explained to them the poor p.r. consequences of taking an American hostage when Washington was their sole benefactor. He volunteered to stay in Baghdad throughout the "mother of all" bombings during the Persian Gulf War, but when Saddam threatened to intern all Western reporters for the duration, the office ordered him out. He decamped to Bahrain. He couldn't have been there more than a day when I phoned his hotel and in that special English reserved for foreigners told the operator I badly needed to talk to a Mr. Gay. "Oh, you mean Lance. He's in the bar. Let me get him for you," she said. Lance had the good reporter's knack for quickly making useful friends. One of the great sights of that war, we were told, was the sight of Lance departing for Kuwait in a brand new Burgundy Chrysler New Yorker laden with emergency supplies of spare tires and scotch. The car was returned singed and discolored by the smoke from burning oil wells and dinged by shrapnel kicked up from the roads. Even by Lance's standards, it was a major expense account item. Born in New Zealand, Lance came up through the business the old-fashioned way, basically a form of apprenticeship that began with running errands as a copy boy and then doing stints on the suburban and city desks before attaining the heights of the national staff. Even though Lance fit the stereotype of the old school, chain-smoking, hard-drinking reporter and sported bushy Dickensian mutton chop sideburns, he was by no means a newsroom dinosaur, adapting seamlessly to new technology, sometimes too seamlessly. Once in uncharacteristically furtive fashion he phoned me from Berlin to say he might have to change hotels suddenly and without notice, perhaps doing so under an assumed name. In any case, he'd get back to me. It seems that unable to get a dial-up connection from the phone in his room, he had removed the wall plate and hardwired his laptop into the hotel's computer system. We got the story but he caused the hotel's computer system to crash, taking with it their reservations, billing records and cash registers. He departed just as the technicians were approaching his floor. Lance had started at the University of Maryland intending a career as a historian and he remained a constant reader of histories. Our wire service used to have a feature called Point-Counterpoint, and I am reasonably certain we are the only American news organization to carry a Point-Counterpoint on whether Richard III had been treated unjustly by history. He had a thorough if quirky grasp of contemporary history. The high point of many Scripps Howard news interns' stay in Washington was Lance's introductory tour of Capitol Hill, that included the usual visits to the press galleries and document rooms, the best way to buttonhole lawmakers and a visit to the pillar on the Capitol's west steps that was the site of a celebrated lovemaking during an all-night session of Congress. Lance believed that no reporter should return from an assignment empty-handed. An editor would call him with a preposterous idea for a story -- it happens -- and Lance would argue, invariably correctly, that the assignment would take up too much time and at the end of it there would be no story. The editor would forget the idea and start to move on to something else but almost immediately the phone would ring. It would be Lance saying, "You know, there's a way we can make this work if we just . . . " Once implanted, it could be very hard to talk Lance out of an idea, especially if he sensed there was a conspiracy involved. Faced with growing mobility and breathing issues, Lance took a buyout in 2006, leaving a huge hole in our operation. There was no story he could not cover and write about quickly and cleanly, and in our business this is praise of the highest order. The newspaper was Lance's great love, but in retirement this fast-talking reporter straight out of "The Front Page" found a greater one -- as a fulltime grandfather. "Doting" doesn't even begin to do justice to Lance's love for those kids. Lance died of respiratory disease Sunday night at home, with his daughters at his side. Lance will be remembered as long as newspaper people gather to tell stories about the wonderful characters who ply their chosen trade. (Contact Dale McFeatters at mcfeattersd(at)shns.com.) (Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
Born April 5, 1944 in Auckland, New Zealand passed away on November 20, 2011 at the family home in Brookeville, MD. He moved to the DC area in 1963 and received his BA and Masters concentrating on the Tudor-Stuart period of British History from the University of Maryland. He was a reporter for the Washington Star and a Senior International Correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service until he retired in 2006. Among his journalism awards were the Frank G. Porter award for labor and business reporting in 1979; the distinguished urban journalism award from the Urban Coalition in 1981 and a National Headliner Award for coverage of Iraq in 1991. (Washingtonpost.com)