TV Reporter Bob Strickland; Covered Barry Arrest, Riots

Bob Strickland was a mentor for aspiring minority journalists.
Bob Strickland was a mentor for aspiring minority journalists. (Wusa (Channel 9))
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bob Strickland, 72, a reporter at WUSA (Channel 9) television for almost three decades who won three local Emmys, died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease Sept. 26 at his home in Washington.

Mr. Strickland joined the station in 1969 and was a general assignment reporter, covering such stories as the Hanafi Muslims' rampage in the city 31 years ago and the FBI's 1990 arrest of then-Mayor Marion Barry on drug charges, as well as the subsequent trial. He also covered the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Mount Pleasant riots in 1991.

He co-founded with the late ABC broadcaster Max Robinson a mentoring program for aspiring minority journalists, which launched numerous broadcasters on their careers.

"A lot of folks in this business have Bob Strickland to thank for his dedication and their careers," said Ron Townsend, former news director and station manager at WUSA. "He also was the best writer I ever ran into. He had a great command of the English language."

Townsend also praised his reporting and said that "with him [and others], we became the number one team in the area."

His three local Emmys came for reports on fraudulent charities, shortages of ambulances and paramedics, and the lack of medical services in the Washington area.

"He was a real fireman. He'd cover anything and come back with a good package, a good story," said Gordon Peterson, now an anchor at WJLA, who worked with Mr. Strickland for 27 years.

Mr. Strickland, who had a 20-year career in the Air Force, began working at what was then WTOP-TV9 on weekends in 1969, while still assigned to Andrews Air Force Base. His contacts from the Air Force and the federal government proved invaluable for the local station, as did his ability to speak Spanish.

His ability to ad-lib also came in handy when WUSA broadcast the expletive-ridden tape of Barry's arrest during an FBI sting operation at the old Vista Hotel.

As Washington Post television critic Tom Shales wrote in 1990, the station "made a big production out of deleting the expletives, so much so that the station aired the tape with no sound at all when it first came in through the pool feed."

"Poor Bob Strickland, the one reporter at the station who had seen the tape earlier (he wouldn't say how), had to narrate for several long minutes as viewers saw the slightly ghostly figures of Barry and [model Rasheeda] Moore moving around the room."

Born Rupert Strickland in Rainbow City, Panama Canal Zone, he began his broadcasting career there as a radio announcer in 1952, then became a staff writer at the now-defunct Panama American newspaper.

In 1956, he joined the Air Force and worked at base radio and television stations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. He held a variety of news positions and was a faculty member at the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. While there, he graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.

He rose to the rank of chief master sergeant and was assistant to the commander of the American Forces Radio and Television Services before retiring from the military in 1976. That same year, he received a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University.

A board member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, he started a golf and tennis tournament that raised thousand of dollars for the organization. He was named to the Defense Information School's Hall of Fame in 1994.

His marriages to Lydia Strickland and Rose Money ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of six years, Janet Payne Strickland of Washington; two children from his first marriage, Lisa Forney and Robert "Robbie" Strickland, both of Gaithersburg; a daughter from his second marriage, Traci Strickland of New York; four children from other relationships, Xenia Beckford and Aurelia Strickland, both of New York, Christopher Brathwaite of Atlanta and Maurice Lacey of Long Island, N.Y.; a stepson, Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony E. Payne of Honolulu; 19 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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