Robin Toner, 54; Veteran New York Times Reporter and Editor

Robin Toner, who was the first woman to become the New York Times' chief national political writer, had spent the past 23 years at the Times.
Robin Toner, who was the first woman to become the New York Times' chief national political writer, had spent the past 23 years at the Times. (Jamie Rose For The New York Times)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

Robin Toner, 54, a veteran Washington correspondent for the New York Times and the first woman to become the newspaper's chief national political writer, died Dec. 12 at her home in Washington. She had colon cancer.

Ms. Toner had spent the past 23 years at the Times, where she contributed to coverage of five presidential elections, numerous congressional and state elections, and was the lead political writer during the 1992 election cycle that culminated in Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's White House victory.

Afterward, she became a senior writer on domestic policy and largely focused on covering health care and abortion issues.

Richard L. Berke, a New York Times assistant managing editor, said Ms. Toner possessed the rare skill of writing accessibly and authoritatively about politics and policy.

Berke singled out Ms. Toner's 2003 profile of then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), which traced the veteran congressman's path on abortion and a variety of other public policy matters.

Ms. Toner wrote that Gephardt joined a long series of political leaders whose extensive and complicated legislative records hampered their presidential aspirations. She labeled them "sin eaters, too loaded up with baggage and compromise for the message-driven simplicity of a modern presidential campaign."

Roberta Denise Toner was born May 22, 1954, in Chester, Pa., and raised in Chadds Ford. She was a 1976 graduate of Syracuse University, where she majored in political science and magazine journalism and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

She began her career at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, where she wrote about a coal miners' strike. Later, when she worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she covered the 1984 Democratic presidential bid of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.

She joined the Times the next year and in 1988 followed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor, on the campaign trail.

She and Times reporter Michael Oreskes were co-national political correspondents before she took on that role alone from 1990 to 1992. She later was one of the lead writers, along with Adam Clymer and Robert Pear, explaining the Clinton White House's failed health care reform initiative.

Clymer said Ms. Toner was among the early skeptics of the health care plan, which many experts initially thought would become law. "Robin probably more than the rest of us had a sense that it was so complicated, it might stall of its own weight," Clymer said.

In the late 1990s, Ms. Toner was promoted to chief of correspondents, a New York-based editing job overseeing the paper's bureau reporters nationwide. Ms. Toner later returned to reporting assignments because editing demands were overshadowing her family life.

In 1996, Ms. Toner married Peter G. Gosselin, a Boston Globe reporter covering the health care debate.

Besides her husband, now an economics correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, survivors include their twin 11-year-old children, Jacob Gosselin and Nora Gosselin, all of Washington; two brothers, Charles R. Toner of Moorestown, N.J., and Mark Toner of Kensington; and three sisters, Gretchen Toner and Jane McConnell, both of Wilmington, Del., and Patricia Lefever of West Chester, Pa.

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