John P. Sharkey, 77; Washington Post Editor

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

John Patrick Sharkey, 77, a Washington Post assistant foreign editor from 1967 to 1994 and for many years the chief copy editor for that section, died Oct. 12 at his home in Washington. He had lung cancer.

Mr. Sharkey had a reputation among his colleagues as a meticulous editor with broad cultural knowledge. He also was known for devising a collection of first paragraphs that played into the cliches of foreign reportage.

Among them: "I watched in horror as hundreds of [fill in blank], some armed with clubs, stormed through the streets of [fill in blank]."

He wrote an unpublished book about the Philippines at the start of World War II, an outgrowth from his work researching the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Mr. Sharkey was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and raised in Detroit.

He was a 1957 history graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., served in the Army in the late 1950s and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

He began his journalism career with the Associated Press in New Haven, Conn. Later, he was editor of an English-language newspaper in Bangkok and a freelance correspondent in Vietnam, mostly for NBC News.

While with NBC in 1963, he was one of three U.S. newsmen clubbed by plainclothes Vietnamese police after covering the story of a Buddhist monk who burned himself to death in a Saigon market.

The other two reporters harassed were David Halberstam of the New York Times and Grant Wolfkill of NBC, and the beatings prompted a public complaint by U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.

Survivors include his wife of 41 years, Joan Thielbar Sharkey of Washington; three children, Anne Wiedenheft of Delta, B.C., Michael Sharkey of Arlington and Robert Sharkey of Santa Monica, Calif.; a brother; and five grandchildren.

-- Adam Bernstein

© 2007 The Washington Post Company