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Pye Chamberlayne, 68; UPI Radio Correspondent

Pye Chamberlayne
Pye Chamberlayne "had a knack for picking up on things," a friend said. (Family Photo - Family Photo)

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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Pye Chamberlayne, 68, a longtime radio correspondent whose distinctive baritone voice was familiar to listeners around the world, died Oct. 21 at his home in Calmes Neck, Va. He died of a heart attack brought on by coronary artery disease.

A journalist for more than a half-century, Mr. Chamberlayne was best known for his work with United Press International from 1962 to 1966 and then from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. Broadcasting once an hour to millions of radio listeners, he covered the White House during his first stint with UPI and then covered Congress and national politics. He reported on every presidential election from 1964 through 1992 and was at Andrews Air Force Base on the evening of Nov. 22, 1963, when the body of President John F. Kennedy arrived from Dallas.

"Pye Chamberlayne, a young UPI radio reporter with an untamable wiry moustache, emerged over drinks as an expert on the Dark Side of Congress," Timothy Crouse wrote in his classic "The Boys on the Bus," which covered the 1972 presidential election. "He could tell you about a prominent Senator's battle to overcome his addiction to speed, or about [Sen. Hubert] Humphrey's habit of popping twenty-five One-A-Day Vitamins with a shot of bourbon when he needed some fast energy. But Pye couldn't tell his audience."

He was known among his media colleagues as "quite a character," said Gene Gibbons, executive editor of and an old friend. "He was a broadcast version of Hunter Thompson. In fact, he and Hunter Thompson were friends."

Gibbons recalled an evening in the bar at a Best Western Hotel in Americus, Ga., shortly after Jimmy Carter had been elected president. Mr. Chamberlayne strolled in and sat down at a table where TV journalist Barbara Walters was holding forth. Alluding to a lucrative contract she had just signed with ABC, Mr. Chamberlayne insisted on referring to her as "million-dollar baby." She was not amused, Gibbons recalled.

"He had a knack for picking up on things no one else would notice," Gibbons said, recalling an interview Mr. Chamberlayne did with a man who trudged about the country carrying a full-sized wooden cross on his back. Mr. Chamberlayne, noting that the cross was equipped with a wheel, wanted to know how often he had to replace it.

As a broadcaster, "he had a way of putting things very succinctly," Gibbons said. "He taught me a lot."

"There are a lot of Pye Chamberlayne stories out there," said his wife, Mary Meagher Chamberlayne, "but the fact is, he took his work very seriously. He was interested in everything."

Edward Pye Chamberlayne Jr. -- "Pye" is a Welsh family name -- was born in Fredericksburg and started his journalism career as a stringer covering police in Charlottesville for the Richmond News Leader. He received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Virginia in 1960.

After graduation, he moved to Paris, where his father had once been the Herald Tribune's bureau chief. He worked for Agence France-Presse and then for the Associated Press in Milwaukee before moving to Alexandria and covering the White House for UPI.

He retired in 1999 and moved to Calmes Neck, a tiny Clarke County community inside a bend of the Shenandoah.

Whenever news intruded on his rural neighborhood -- a dump truck that flipped over on the gravel road near his house, for example -- he covered the incident for the Clarke County Times-Courier. He also maintained a chatty Web log that included photos of bears, foxes and rattlesnakes in the surrounding woods, home-remodeling projects and news from the Chamberlayne family.

In addition to his wife of 37 years, of Calmes Neck, survivors include a son, Army Maj. Edward Pye Chamberlayne III, now on his second tour of duty in Iraq; and two grandchildren.

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