A Newsman for All Seasons

By David Von Drehle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 18, 2005

The classic newsman digs by day and drinks by night. Loves scoundrels and underdogs. Writes tight, bright, juicy.

One died yesterday.

His name was Gene Miller of the Miami Herald, and he was a loud, lusty, likable guy who had two Pulitzer Prizes and two olives in every martini. Always wore a bowtie, rarely knotted it. Knew everyone worth knowing in Miami, from jewel thief Jack "Murph the Surf" Murphy to future Attorney General Janet Reno to the man who founded Burger King. Preferred Wendy's -- single with cheese.

You probably never heard of him. He was not the kind of reporter who spouts political analysis on TV. He was the kind of reporter who saves people's lives.

But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who taught more valuable lessons to more of the newsmen and newswomen plying the trade. Off the top of my head, the ranks of the "Millerized" include senior editors at the Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times and the Palm Beach Post. Also top reporters at the Journal, the New York Times and a lot of other big papers. You can't walk 10 feet at The Washington Post without meeting someone whom Miller discovered, recruited, coached, rewrote, hectored, backslapped or admonished in Miami-- including much of the Style staff, almost half of the magazine staff and dozens of Metro, National, Foreign, Financial and Investigative writers and editors.

Holy smokes! Look how long that paragraph was.

Miller would say, blasting like a trombone:


Here's how he wrote. It's from his obituary, which he drafted himself because, as he often said, "if you want something done right, do it yourself."

"Gene Edward Miller, 76, newspaperman, died 9:12 a.m. June 17, 2005, at home. Cause: cancer, the family said. Noted Gene: 'Excellent health . . . except for a fatal disease.'

"Self-portrait: Born in Evansville, Indiana, Sept. 16, 1928, grandson of a Utah railroader and a grandma who could outshoot the sheriff. Pre-kindergarten firebug. Hid under bed as firemen from Engine 15 extinguished grass fire.

"As a $12 a week copyboy, misfiled clips in the morgue of the Evansville Press. Look for 'assassination' under 'assignation.' "

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