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Mary McGrory

The Crusader Who Put The Boston Globe on the Map

By Mary McGrory
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 15, 2002; Page C01

An editor to the end, Tom Winship on his deathbed at Massachusetts General Hospital was making assignments. He said to David Nyhan, his old friend and favorite political columnist, "I want you to be the lead speaker at my service."

It was a brilliant choice -- Nyhan, a hulking, black-browed Irishman who played football for Harvard, is a poet whose column, started under Winship's patronage, used to ornament the op-ed page of their beloved Boston Globe, the newspaper Tom Winship ran for nearly 20 years. Winship, who died yesterday at the age of 81, had discovered Nyhan, one of the several Irishmen he had taken under his wing and set to writing. They kidded him about his ethnic background -- Boston is like that. Columnist Mike Barnicle called Winship "a swamp Yankee," to the editor's great amusement. Winship was the least waspish of WASPs. He was exuberant, joyful and funny. He loved gossip and greeted old friends with a hearty "How's your love life?"

In his two decades as editor, Tom Winship transformed the Boston Globe into a thunderous liberal voice of New England. (AP via The Boston Globe/File Photo)

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About Mary McGrory

He was born an editor: His father before him had run the Globe. He made himself great in the role, always judging his performance, looking for ways to improve. He carried around a scruffy little notebook in which he wrote down everything he thought he should do. Under him, the Globe won 12 Pulitzer Prizes.

When I met him he was the bureau chief of the Globe's Washington office. Although I was working for the Washington Star, he acted as though he were my editor, which he was in the sense that the Globe used my copy. He understood that the first function of an editor is to encourage writers, and he did plenty of that. The second thing, of course, is to prod, and he was always on the phone with tips and ideas.

You couldn't be with him long and not know that he was a happy man. At 21, wearing a sailor suit, he married Elizabeth Coolidge, called "Liebe," who was 19. Whenever you asked about her, he would say, "terrific," and he meant it. Winship was deeply kind. He stood out in status-conscious Washington for the way he was so nice to your visiting relatives.

As editor of the Globe, he fulfilled all his promise. He transformed the newspaper into a thunderous liberal voice of New England. He took desperate chances. His successor at the Globe, Mike Janeway, recalls that on the fateful evening of the March 12, 1968, presidential primary -- the great duel between Lyndon Johnson and Gene McCarthy -- Winship unfurled a banner in the Globe on the basis of a handful of returns: "McCarthy sweeps New Hampshire." McCarthy had made an unexpectedly strong showing, and, says Janeway, "the crusader in him was just delighted."

When Janeway was named to succeed him as editor, he told Winship that he wasn't sure he was just the right choice. Winship reassured him: "We've got plenty of people who can put out the paper, but we don't have enough to rock the boat."

He was one of an almost extinct breed, a newspaper editor who wanted to make things happen, wanted to make a difference. John A. Farrell, a Globe editor, says of Winship, "He just struck me with his infinite sense of possibilities."

Civil rights? Boston was racked by racial strife over the integration of South Boston High School. Winship received death threats, the Globe had to have police protection, but he soldiered on.

Stop a war? Why not? Like former House speaker Tip O'Neill, the subject of a biography by Farrell, Winship listened to his children, and never let New England forget his fierce opposition to Vietnam.

Get yourself a television station? The Globe's rival, the Boston Herald, had the inside track, but Winship unleashed his favorite political reporter, Bob Healey, on telephone bills relating to forbidden contacts: The Globe got the station.

"I can see him now," says Bob Rosenthal, erstwhile editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "in the newsroom with his shirt-sleeves rolled up, his bow tie and his red suspenders. What a presence he was. I was one of his tigers, one of the guys he sent out to the streets. I remember his joy in the work. He was a leader who empowered young people and actually deferred to them."

Winship had a great year in 1980. He won three Pulitzers. Retirement was something of a penance to him, although he accepted it philosophically. He joined a number of journalistic organizations, meddled happily in the politics of his city and his old paper, and he worked to make life easier and less perilous for foreign journalists. His sympathy for women and minorities never flagged.

He and Liebe organized horseback excursions through northern New England, ski and buggy tours and trips abroad. He was always learning, always marveling and, considering all he had done, he was miraculously humble, grateful and lovable to the end.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company