Tom Wicker, at Attica prison in 1971, spoke and wrote with force and conviction. Photo by Michael Evans/The New York Times.
Tom Wicker, NF '58, a columnist and Washington bureau chief during 31 years at The New York Times, died of a heart attack on November 25, at his home near Rochester, Vermont. He was 85.
As a White House correspondent for the Times, he came into prominence for his coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was the paper's only reporter in the presidential motorcade through Dallas.
The following year, Wicker succeeded James B. "Scotty" Reston as chief of the Washington bureau. In 1966 Wicker started writing the "In the Nation" column, which was syndicated to scores of newspapers. It appeared two to three times a week until he retired in 1991.
In a remembrance published in the Times
, Anthony Lewis, NF '57, called him a "first-class" political columnist: "shrewd, well-informed, with a sure sense of Washington."
From his perch on editorial and op-ed pages, Wicker, a Southern liberal with a streak of civil libertarianism, passed judgment on presidents and politicians from both sides of the aisle. He had his own detractors in politics—with a spot on one of Nixon's "enemies lists"—and in journalism. Some thought he was too outspoken.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Wicker rooted for the underdog. During an uprising at the Attica prison in upstate New York in 1971, prisoners invited him in as an observer and mediator. They had been impressed by a sympathetic column he wrote about the death of a black militant in San Quentin prison.
In a video tribute, Danny Schechter, NF '78, who interviewed Wicker for a documentary about the JFK assassination, praised him for showing "that you could move from this so-called neutrality/objectivity of being a Times man to a concerned citizen, where he actually spoke out on a lot of important issues."
Before joining the Times in 1960, Wicker was the associate editor of The (Nashville) Tennessean and had worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in North Carolina, including nearly a decade at The Winston-Salem Journal.
He wrote some 20 books, including political thrillers and murder mysteries under the pen name Paul Connolly as well as nonfiction. He examined race relations in America, the legacies of former presidents, the shortcomings of the press, and, in "A Time to Die," the Attica prison riot.
He is survived by his wife, Pamela, a son and daughter from his first marriage, two stepdaughters, and a stepson.