Richard L. Strout, 92, an informed, gifted and influential reporter and columnist who wrote from Washington for 60 years and whose work appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and the New Republic, died Aug. 19 at Georgetown University Hospital.
He died of complications from a fall in his home Aug. 8.
Mr. Strout was a member of the Washington bureau of the Christian Science Monitor for 60 years before retiring in 1984. He also wrote New Republic's "TRB" column, which traditionally appears on the inside of the magazine's cover, from 1943 to 1983.
His career began during the the presidential administration of Warren G. Harding and ended during that of Ronald Reagan. Over the years, he covered the Teapot Dome and Watergate scandals, World War II's D-Day landings, the tempestuous hearings on communist infiltration and American loyalty held by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's historic 1959 tour of this country.
His TRB columns in New Republic were written in a vivid yet simple style that brought plaudits even from ideological opponents. Conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick said in 1973 of Mr. Strout's columns: "I disagree with most of TRB's columns. But I follow his stuff regularly. There's a good deal of wisdom there. He always puts it pleasantly, with just enough lemon juice."
Or, as his New Republic editors wrote when he retired: "You don't get out of Strout's church without hearing the sermon, but the hymns are lovely . . . . He looks and listens, and tells you what he has seen and heard in vivid, simple words."
In one TRB column Mr. Strout called the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, "government by sedative," and compared McCarthy "to a mist that carries lethal contagion."
He described the Watergate scandal as "a special kind of corruption without greed. No sex, no dollars, just power."
A tall, slender man with bushy eyebrows and a thick mustache, Mr. Strout worked for years at a roll-top desk at the Monitor's Washington offices, typing his stories on a manual typewriter. In Washington journalism circles he had a reputation as an engertic man, who while possessed of a gentlemanly demeanor did not suffer fools gladly.
In the latter years of his career, when he regularly was working 10-hour days despite being in his eighties, he was cited in news profiles as being a "dean" of the Washington press corps.
He scoffed at such descriptions, saying in one interview that he was surprised at how many people, "mistake longevity for profundity."
In another interview, he said he thought that reporters should have at their hearts "a touch of anger . . . . and make affirmation of our belief guardedly."
Mr. Strout was born in Cohoes N.Y., and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Harvard University, where he also received a master's degree in economics. He served in the Army during World War I.
In 1919, after working his way across the Atlantic on a grain ship, he got a job as a reporter with a newspaper in Sheffield, England. He returned to the United States in 1921 and became a reporter with the Boston Post.
He later related how his first assignment was getting photographs of children who had been killed in automobile accidents. He stayed at that paper only a few days before leaving to join the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor.
He came to Washington in 1921 to do research on a series about striking coal miners. He related in a 1978 story how his hotel room was $2 a night, which he thought was expensive.
One day, he accompanied the Monitor's bureau chief to a press conference given by President Harding. At that time, press conferences were informal affairs held in the Oval Office. In an oft-repeated story, Strout recalled how Harding, sitting behind his desk and resplendent in golfing plus fours, told reporters, "Go easy on me, gentlemen, because I'm on my way to play golf."
Later in 1921, he returned to Boston, where he worked until transferring to the Monitor's Washington bureau in 1924. In those early years, he drove to work in a Model T and parked it on the Ellipse behind the White House.
In 1943, he was asked to write the TRB column for New Republic. The column at the time carried no byline. In his first column, written during the heavy fighting of World War II, he called for a national statement of postwar aims. He wrote, "When a man dies, he wants to die for something important."
In his coulumn, Mr. Strout advocated that the United States should adopt a parlimentary form of government modeled along the lines of Britain's.
"We have a dangerously anachronistic form of government," he told The Washington Post in 1983. "We're the only country that has purposely built in an antagonism between the Senate and the House, the Congress and the president. It leads to stalemate and deadlock."
He decried what he believed was a purge mentality in the election of presidents in which, "we destroy the president and then put another in his place who is supposed to have all the virtues his predecessor lacked."
In 1954, when President Eisenhower became the first president to broadcast news conferences, Mr. Strout objected, writing in TRB that verbatim recordings and transmissions of presidential news conferences, "turns what has been an extremely handy, carefully evolved, semiofficial and unique contrivance into a theatrical performance . . . it's informal, easygoing nature is changed into a self-conscious half-hour broadcast."
His awards for journalism included a special lifetime achievement citation by the Pulitzer Prize committee in 1978.
A collection of his columns, "TRB: Views and Perspectives on the Presidency," was published in 1979. In 1936, he and writer E.B. White wrote a book called "Farewell to the Model T."
"My story is that of a typical Washington reporter, he said in 1978, "I've just been doing it longer than others . . . . I always wanted to be a newspaperman."
His first wife, Edith Mayne Strout, died in 1932.
Survivors include his wife, Ernestine Strout, of Washington; three children by his first marriage, Alan Mayne Strout of Weston, Mass., Phyllis Norris of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Nancy Dulaney of Washington; two children by his second marriage, Elizabeth Zimmermann of Minneapolis and Mary Rubeiz of Geneva; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
VALENTINE R. VINSON
Valentine R. Vinson, 79, an editorial assistant with the Army Corps of Engineers from 1965 to 1976 who was a member of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, died July 25 at a hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., after surgery for a heart ailment.
Mrs. Vinson, a resident of Boynton Beach, Fla., was born in Montreal and grew up in Westerly, R.I. She came to the Washington area in 1953 and lived in Bethesda until moving to Florida in 1976.
Her husband, Randolph K. Vinson, died in 1963. Survivors include two children, Ann V. Scratchley of Fort Myers and James R. Vinson of Arlington; two sisters, Jessie Sorensen of Westerly and Ann Mainella of Palm Beach, Fla.; a brother, Fred Rodgers of Charlotte, N.C.; and five grandchildren.
WILMA R. FOWLER
Plumbing Company Founder
Wilma Ruth Fowler, 59, a co-founder and secretary-treasurer of Waldorf Plumbing Supply Inc., died of cancer Aug. 19 at her home in Waldorf, Md.
She helped found Waldorf Plumbing Supply in 1964 and remained active in the business until her death. During the 1950s, she was a data processing worker with Washington Gas Light Co. and held clerical posts with purchasing departments of Marriott Corp.
Mrs. Fowler, who came to the Washington area about 1950, was a native of Florida. She attended Charles County Community College.
Survivors include her husband, Holmes Eugene Fowler, a son, Chad Eugene Fowler, and a daughter, Jennifer Ruth Fowler, all of Waldorf; her mother, Irene M. Vasper of Sarasota, Fla.; and two sisters, Kathryn Irene Mask of Sarasota and Clarica H. Wilkinson of Bostwick, Fla.
JOHN E. PARKER
Secret Service Agent
John E. Parker, 68, a Secret Service agent and criminal investigator from 1952 to 1969 who later worked for the Customs Bureau and the House of Representatives, died of cancer Aug. 17 at Fairfax Hospital. He lived in Alexandria.
He was a computer programmer with the Customs Bureau from 1972 to 1975. He worked for the doorkeeper of the House of Representatives for 10 years until retiring in 1989.
Mr. Parker served with the Army in Europe during World War II. He received a degree in political science from Grove City College in his native Pennsylvania before moving to the Washington area in 1952.
He was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria.
Survivors include his wife, Geraldine L., of Alexandria; a son, Jonathan, of Annandale; a daughter, Melissa Parker of Montclair, N.J.; and a brother, Russell, of Grove City, Pa.
MARCIA P. RUSSELL
Marcia P. Russell, 39, a music teacher in Arlington schools from 1975 to 1979 who was a member of Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge, died Aug. 11 in Carthage, N.Y., where she visiting relatives. She had cancer.
Mrs. Russell, who lived in Woodbridge, was born in Alexandria. She was a graduate of George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church and James Madison University, where she received a music degree.
She taught music at schools in New York for two years before returning to the Washington area in 1975. Over the next four years, she taught at Glencarlyn, Key and Page Traditional elementary schools in Arlington.
Survivors include her husband, Leland K., and two daughters, Sara M. and Alison B. Russell, all of Woodbridge; her father and stepmother, Aaron S. and Frances Thaler of Falls Church; a sister, Stephanie Rosen of Woodbridge; a stepsister, Cynthia F. Alpert of Alexandria; and a stepbrother, Brian S. Alpert of Arlington.
ROBERT L. HARRY
Red Cross Official
Robert L. Harry, 72, a retired national director of public affairs and financial development for the American Red Cross, died Aug. 19 at his home in Alexandria after a stroke. He had cancer.
Mr. Harry was a native of Pennsylvania. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he worked in the state's unemployment compensation and public assistance departments.
He came to the Washington area during World War II. His first job was as an assistant regional director of military and naval welfare services at the Eastern Area American Red Cross offices in Alexandria.
Mr. Harry became director of fund-raising for the Eastern Area in 1955 and assistant director of national fund-raising in 1957.
Two years later, he became national director of fund-raising. In 1976, he became national director of public affairs and director of financial development. He retired in 1979.
Mr. Harry was a member of the Public Relations Society of America and the National Society of Fund Raisers, which awarded him its Professional Fund Raiser of the Year Award in 1976.
He was a former commander in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and a past president of Toastmasters International. He was a member of Mount Vernon Country Club and his hobbies included boating and playing the piano and organ.
Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Donna M. Harry, and two children, Dianne L. Lewis and Robert J. Harry, all of Alexandria; and three grandchildren.
BARBARA M. OTIS
Barbara Miller Otis, 64, a retired deputy director for international training at the Agency for International Development, died of cancer Aug. 19 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. She lived in Washington.
Miss Otis was a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Connecticut College. Between 1960 and 1968, she was a secretary at the University of Chicago, where she came to work for the its graduate business school dean, George P. Shultz.
She accompanied Schultz to Washington and served as his secretary until 1974. During those years, Shultz, who later was secretary of state in the Reagan administration, served as secretary of labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and secretary of the treasury.
In 1974, Miss Otis was a special assistant to Nancy Hanks, the head of the National Endowment for the Arts. From 1975 to 1982, she was an assistant director of the President's Commission on Executive Exchange. She worked for AID until retiring for health reasons in 1989.
Miss Otis was a past president of the Columbia Plaza Tenants Association in Washington.
Survivors include a brother, James T. Otis of Hanover, Ill.
HILDUR "GERIE" WILDER
Area Resident Since 1974
Hildur "Gerie" Wilder, 87, an area resident since 1974 who lived at the Culpepper Garden retirement center in Arlington, died Aug. 15 at Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital after a stroke.
Mrs. Wilder, who moved to the Washington area from Tucson, was a native of Boston and spent most of her life in Newtonville, Mass.
Her husband, Earle F. Wilder, died in 1984. Survivors include two daughters, Leslie J. Wilder of Arlington and Holly McMullen of Potomac; a brother, Richard G. Wester of Dennis, Mass.; and two grandchildren.