Stephen S. Rosenfeld, 77

Obituary: Stephen S. Rosenfeld, Post editor and columnist

Stephen Rosenfeld wrote more than 10,000 op-ed columns and unsigned editorials for The Post. His expertise was in foreign affairs.
Stephen Rosenfeld wrote more than 10,000 op-ed columns and unsigned editorials for The Post. His expertise was in foreign affairs. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010

Stephen S. Rosenfeld, 77, a Washington Post editor and columnist whose foreign affairs expertise helped shape the newspaper's editorial page for more than three decades, died May 2 at the Aarondale Retirement and Assisted Living Community in Springfield of complications from Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.

During his 40-year tenure at The Post, Mr. Rosenfeld wrote more than 10,000 op-ed columns and unsigned editorials. He frequently took on two of the most polarizing issues of the time, the Cold War and the conflict in the Middle East, but built a reputation among colleagues for his unflagging efforts to understand the world and his ability to write intelligently about any part of it.

Mr. Rosenfeld became deputy editor of the editorial pages in 1982 and served in that role, under editorial page editor Meg Greenfield, for almost two decades. Famously calm, he was the steadying influence among his colleagues as they debated how to present the newspaper's positions on local, national and international issues. He became editorial page editor in 1999 and retired a short time later in 2000.

"He could get deeply immersed in an issue without getting entangled in it," said John W. Anderson, a former editorial board member. "He could maintain his emotional balance even on issues he felt very strongly about."

Mr. Rosenfeld never failed to ask difficult questions as he met with ambassadors and heads of state from around the world, but colleagues said he was always a gentleman.

"He said, 'Write the editorial as if you're going to be sitting across the dinner table from the person in the evening,' " recalled Colbert King, a former editorial board member and columnist. "That was quintessential Steve, and that always had a leveling effect on me."

Donald E. Graham, chairman of the newspaper's parent company, recalled a visit during the 1980s from Mobutu Sese Seko, the authoritarian leader of the African country then known as Zaire. Mr. Rosenfeld patiently and repeatedly asked Mobutu to respond to allegations of corruption and crime within his government.

"Steve was a part of the heart and soul of The Washington Post," Graham said. "He was an admirable, principled journalist."

Stephen Samuel Rosenfeld was born July 26, 1932, in Pittsfield, Mass. His mother was a secretary who had emigrated from then-Russian Latvia. His father, who owned a clothing store, played the violin and wrote music criticism for the local newspaper, the Berkshire Eagle.

Mr. Rosenfeld graduated from Harvard University with a degree in modern history in 1953, served in the Marine Corps for two years and then returned home to western Massachusetts to write for the Eagle.

"We kid reporters ferociously nailed down the middle initials of speeding violators," he wrote in a 1991 Post column, "and fearlessly pursued the public's right to know what sort of lace the bride wore."

After two years at the newspaper, he was convinced both that he wanted to pursue journalism and that he wanted to write about issues of more global importance. He earned a master's degree in Russian at Columbia University in 1959 and was hired that year as a reporter on The Post's city desk. He joined the editorial board in 1962 and met his wife-to-be, Barbara Bromson, on a trip to Russia.

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