ERWIN DAIN CANHAM, longtime editor of the Christian Science Monitor, played a special role in American journalism. By his religious dedication he made his newspaper faithful to its primary, religious purpose--to give "proper emphasis to significant news" reflecting the positive and noble side of man. At the same time, by his professionalism he made the paper essential reading for many readers who did not share his religious views. The Monitor is one of the very few privately endowed dailies in the country. In Mr. Canham's 50 years on the paper, it became an interesting yardstick of sorts against which to measure the quality of newspapers run for profit.

His colleagues knew Mr. Canham as a man of wit and energy who interested himself in a vast and constantly expanding list of events and people. The general public knew him as an editor who involved himself in many projects outside journalism. He served, for instance, not only as a spokesman for national and international press freedom but also as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as a member of a presidential commission surveying campus unrest and as a lobbyist for revenue sharing. That he managed to stay open to causes, organizations and government assignments without losing his reputation for journalistic integrity was no small achievement in itself. To appear "on both sides of the footlights," as observer and participant, struck Spike Canham as quite natural: two different ways to be useful.

Upon retirement from active Monitor duty in the 1970s, Mr. Canham accepted a government appointment to administer the plebiscite in which residents of the Northern Mariana Islands voted to withdraw from the United States-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Though he returned annually to Cape Cod, he made Saipan his principal retirement home. He was living there, working on a couple of books, meaning still to be useful, when he died on Sunday at age 77.