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Post Columnist Judy Mann Dies

Judy Mann, in an undated file photo, expressed regret that
Judy Mann, in an undated file photo, expressed regret that "there are so few liberal columnists left . . . and so few women writing serious commentary." (The Washington Post)

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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 9, 2005

Judy Mann, 61, a former Washington Post columnist who wrote about women, children and the politics of the women's movement, died of breast cancer July 8 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif.

Her columns, which ran first in the Metro section and later in the Style section, were unapologetically liberal and feminist in outlook, and she noted in print that her topics were "frequently unpopular and very often at odds with mainstream orthodoxy."

"Her column was widely read, especially by women like herself who believed strongly in expanding the rights of women," said Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor. "More than that, Judy was a strong personality and a force for good in the newsroom, never afraid to tell the truth to senior editors when it was necessary to make the newspaper better and to make our newsroom a better place to work."

She won awards for her support of women's rights, world population control and child welfare. In her last column, published Dec. 28, 2001, she expressed regret that "there are so few liberal columnists left in the media and so few women writing serious commentary. I have always felt that the media mirror society and that a society in which women are invisible in the media is one in which they are invisible, period."

Ms. Mann worked for The Post for almost 30 years. She began in 1972 as a city reporter, and was promoted to day city editor three years later. She became a columnist in 1978.

Her columns ranged from auto safety to the harmful effects of pesticides to the Taliban's treatment of women and girls. She compared the amount of federal money spent on AIDS research to the significantly smaller amount spent on breast cancer research. She decried a plan by the Egyptian minister of health to require female circumcision be performed in hospitals, and she proposed a ban on U.S. aid to Egyptian hospitals until the practice stopped, which it did.

She wrote two books, one a collection of her columns and one inspired by watching her daughter growing up, "The Difference: Discovering the Hidden Ways We Silence Girls" (1994), which she described as a study of the "machocracy in America."

Ms. Mann's outspoken ways were not limited to her columns. She fought for pay equity as well as promotion of women in the newsroom. When the paper's editors were thinking about canceling her column, her readers and supporters called and wrote letters on her behalf. When her column was moved from its position on the third page of the Metro section to the back of the Style section -- first adjacent to the comic strips and later to the bottom of a nearby page -- readers noticed, but the paper made no change.

"She was furious, of course, but took it with good public grace," said former Post reporter Claudia Levy.

Ms. Mann was born in Washington. She spent her childhood in Paris, where her father was a Marshall Plan official. She spoke fluent French by the time she returned to the United States, in time to attend and graduate from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. While in high school, she worked as a correspondent and assistant teen editor of the Northern Virginia Sun in Arlington.

She attended Barnard College, leaving before graduation to organize protests of the Vietnam War and rent strikes in New York. In 1964, she joined a student protest group that defied U.S. law by traveling to Cuba.

She spent 1966 as a housewife and sold Avon beauty products. But after a year, she returned to journalism, as editor of seven community newspapers in Fairfax County for Globe Publications.

She was a reporter and editor for the Washington Daily News from 1968 to 1972, when she joined The Post.

She won awards from the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the National Women's Political Caucus, the National Abortion Rights Action League and the American Association of University Women. American University gave her its Myra Sadker Equity Award; Planned Parenthood gave her the Margaret Sanger Award; and the Population Institute gave her its Global Media Award.

She lived in McLean until retirement, when she moved to a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, which she dubbed "Gender Gap."

She also had a home in Palm Springs.

Her marriages to Phillip Abbott Luce and Jack Mann ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband of 15 years, Richard T. Starnes of Fort Valley, Va., and Palm Springs; a son from her first marriage, Devin Mann of Los Angeles; two children from her second marriage, Jeffrey Mann of Willits, Calif., and Katherine Mann of Centreville; and a grandson.


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