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Four lifetimes of accomplishment.

NCEW members said adieu in the final weeks of 2003 to four colleagues whose editorial achievements touched many aspects of American life and collectively elevated the profession of editorial writing.

Death came to current or former NCEW members Lloyd Armour, 82, on November 14; Robert Bartley, 66, on December 10; Ron Clark, 60, on November 30; and Bailey Thomson, 54, on November 26.


Armour joined The Tennessean in 1948 after a stint with the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He rose through newsroom and opinion-writing assignments to be placed in charge of the opinion pages in 1960, a post later designated the executive editorship. In 1954 he married a fellow Tennessean staff member, Joan Link.

During 27 years as The Tennessean's executive editor, Armour earned a reputation for meticulous knowledge of public policy. Even while developing a particular expertise in foreign affairs, traveling and writing extensively from overseas, he never gave up his interest in good government locally. He stepped down to senior editor in 1987 and retired in 1990, though continuing to write for the newspaper and maintaining an avid interest in NCEW developments.

Armour was NCEW president in 1973. He joined the organization in 1960, attending his first of 28 conventions in 1961. Chair of the annual meeting in Nashville in 1967, he joined the executive board in 1968 and was elected treasurer in 1970. A change in the by-laws altered the order of secretary and treasurer so he was elected treasurer again in 1971, the only person in NCEW history to serve two consecutive years as treasurer.

Armour was named a life member in 1988. The nominator said, "He personifies all that is best in NCEW, professionally and personally." Seconding letters called him "an honorable keeper of editorial conscience" and "a gracious, able gentleman" with a "quiet, effective manner."


Bartley, an Iowa State University journalism graduate who moved from the newsroom of The Wall Street Journal to the editorial page in 1965, was among the more influencial editorial writers of his time. During thirty years at the helm of the Journal's editorial page, he helped set the agenda for conservative administrations and marketplace advocates of supply-side economics.

His page was controversial. Critics deplored its positions and called it shoddy and mean-spirited. Yet the force of his writing and the clarity of his ideas were widely recognized. In a piece marking Bartley's death, Slate editor Jack shafer repeated allegations of fact-shaving, intellectual inconsistency, and mean-spiritedness. "Despite these shortcomings," Shafer wrote, "Bartley still deserves credit for revitalizing the editorial form."

Wrote Shafer: "Wherever editorial pages take a genuine stand on an issue instead of pondering the complexity of the world for six hundred words before recommending further study, you have Bartley to thank. Wherever editorial pages report a story or break news, wherever editorials read as if they were written by a human instead of an institutional voice, you probably have Bartley to thank, too. And wherever an editorial page serves red meat instead of tapioca, no matter what the page's politics, its writers should pay royalties to the Bartley estate."

Awards included the Pulitzer prize. Bartley once said that his proudest boast was that he produced an editorial page that actually sold newspapers.


A kind heart and a courageous battle against cancer are among the recent memories of Ron Clark, who guided the opinion pages of the St. Paul Pioneer Press for twenty-one years until illness forced him to step down a year ago.

But Clark was a newpaperman's newspaperman. As city editor of the Akron Beacon-Journal in 1971, he headed the reporting team that won a Pulitzer prize for its coverage of the Kent State shootings. At St. Paul, he opened the opinion pages to a diversity of voices, championed Mississippi River development, and once compared his job to being in a classroom to which people came every day to teach him about all the issues he faced as an editor.

Clark, who spearheaded a successful NCEW convention in St. Paul in 1989, spoke with an influential voice on the NCEW listserv, advocating the accessibility of editorial pages and courteously defending his policy of running an editorial page sans institutional editorials from time to time. As past NCEW president Phil Haslanger noted that Clark was "willing to challenge the status quo without ever demeaning those who would defend it, caring deeply about his colleagues, always willing to share the limelight."

Haslanger called Clark a teacher "who passed on the lessons he learned in his classroom in St. Patti to the rest of us around the country." In his final months, this role took on new meaning as Mr. Clark, in occasional columns, shared with his readers his thoughts about his illness and approaching death.


Bailey Thomson's hometown paper, at the time of his death, identified him as an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama and a leader in the movement to reform the state constitution. But long before that, he was an editorial writer.

He worked for the Huntsville Times and the Tuscaloosa News in Alabama, the Shreveport Journal in Louisiana, and the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, where he was chief editorial writer. In 1995, as editorial page editor at the Mobile Register, he and two colleagues were finalists for a Pulitzer prize. An editorial series he wrote in 1999, "Dixie's Broken Hem" won the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Thomson then wrote a book about deficiencies in Alabama's constitution and went on the road to promote reform. In 2000, he became a founding member of Alabamans for Constitutional Reform. Reese Cleghorn, former dean and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, wrote that "What he did to painfully call attention to Alabama's problems in the public sector was quite extraordinary--the kind of thing that I know will reverberate among thoughtful people in that state for a long time."

"He was a tremendous champion for a better Alabama," said Dewey English, managing editor of the Register Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described Thomson as one who "loved the South too much to conceal her faults and strove mightily against her ills in the most reasoned, persuasive and often successful way."
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Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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