John J.W. Riseling Sr., 89, who barked orders to young reporters as night city editors of The Washington Post for more than 40 years, died yesterday at Collingswood Nursing Center in Rockville after a long illness.
Mr. Riseling, whose bark was far worse than his bite, retired in 1967 with a reputation as one of the best-loved city editors in the business.
He was a member of the old school of newspapering, hammering away incessantly on the who-what-where-when and why ingredients of a story.
During his long career, he trained hundreds of cub reporters in what he considered to be the basics of newspapering.
He was slight in stature but heavily gruff of voice, which he used not only on reporters but on many of the major figures in Washington, a city he knew like a book - geographically, politically, economically and socially.
Mr. Riseling never hesitated to call national figures at any of night if he needed to verigy facts or get more information about a breaking story.
He had a speaking acquaintance ship with every President from Wilson to Eisenhower, as well as with hundreds of lesser public officials.
As night city editor of a morning newspaper, Mr. Riseling was accustomed to working on stories on an emergency basis, trying to meet press deadlines.
He was wedded to the police and fire short-wave redios. He knew the location of practically every fire box in the city. When an alarm came through from what he thought was a vulnerable site, his voice would summon the nearest reporter with a booming:
"Get your roller skates and get going." The reporter invariably left the newsroom on the run, with a photographer.
Mr. Riseling worked hard and he expected the same from his reporters.
His "Do this while you're resting" became part of the vocabulary of The Post. Despite a desk already covered with notes on stories to be written, the reporter manage to get the added assigment done.
Mr. Riseling was a man of boundless energy, who preferred to run up the stairs to the second-floor city room of the old Post building on E Street NW rather than take the elevator.
"Any booboos, and kudos?" he inquired breathlessly as he settled in for the night.
Mr. Riseling also was a man with a phenomenal memory. One evening in 1960, a copy boy answered an in coming call and turned to the night city editor:
"Mr. Riseling, this person wants to know the date of the Knicker-bocker Theater disaster."
Without looking up from the story he was editing, Mr. Riseling replied:
"The Knickerbocker THeater collapsed on Jan. 28, 1922, at 9:15 p.m." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "The first alarm came in on Box 817."
The roof of the knickerbocker Theater here collapsed after a havy snowstorm, killing 98 persons, Mr. Riseling kept the story of that disaster and its aftermath on the front page daily for a month.
That was a year before he joined the staff of The Post. In 1922, he was still city editor of the old Washington Herald. The Knickerbocker disaster was only one of the many major stories he was to handle in the years that followed.
Born in Philadelphia, he started his newspaper career in 1908 with the Philadelphia Inquirer. In his own words, he:
"Ran copy, worked in detail, advertising and news department - 'sat type while I was resting.'"
He left the Inquirer in 1910 to kork for the Philadelphia Evening Times, where he was in the comptroller's office in the daytime and covered sports and city news at night. He came to Washington when the Evening Times folded in 1914.
Mr. Riseling went to work for the Washington Herald, planning to stay two weeks. Instead he remained here fo rthe rest of his life.
He started on that newspaper in the business office and then was transferred to the copy desk in the newsroom when World War I depleted the staff. He was city edito rand then night city editor until moving to The Post in 1923.
He worked briefly as a reporter at The Post and than became Sunday editor in charge of the rotogravure section, magazine sections and theater reviews.
Mr. Riseling also served for a short period as city editor, during which time he helped arganize the White House Correspondents Association.
In later years, he boasted that he had worked at one time or another in every newspaper department except the press room.
Mr. Riseling retired from The Post in 1967 along with the late Edward T. Folliard, veteran White House correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, whom Mr. Riseling had hired in 1923.
For many years, Mr. Riseling had lived with his wife, the late Teresa Gallen Riseling, and their six children in a house on Park Place NW, which often contained as many Post staff memebers as members of the family. Mrs. Riseling died in 1960.
Mr, Riseling moved to Bethesda in 1969. In 1973-74, he lived in Lakeland, Fla., near a daughter, Sister George Francis (Teresa). He then returned to Bethesda and was resident at Fernwood House until moving to the Collinswood Nursing Center four months ago.
He had been an active memebr for many years of St. Gabriel's Catholic Church in Washington.
In addition to Sister George Frances, now of Tampa, he is survived by two other daughters, margaret Philipp, of Alexandria, and Mary Patricia Regan, of Sudbury, Mass.; two sons, John J.W. Jr., of Silver Spring, and George, of Suitland, and 14 grandchildren. Another son, Joseph, died in April, 1976.