Donald Neff, a journalist and author who covered international news from Israel to Vietnam for Time and wrote acclaimed books about political and military strife in the Middle East, died May 10 at a nursing center in York, Pa. He was 84.
The cause was coronary heart disease and diabetes, said his companion, Janet McMahon, managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
After joining Time in 1965, Mr. Neff spent nearly two years as a Saigon correspondent and later was bureau chief in Houston (where he covered the Apollo moon landing), Los Angeles, Jerusalem and New York before leaving the magazine in 1979.
He was one of the first journalists to report on the Jonestown massacre in 1978 when more than 900 members of a religious commune in Guyana died of mass cyanide poisoning.
The next year, he chronicled the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. Soon afterward, Mr. Neff settled in Washington and worked briefly as an editor for the old Washington Star newspaper before embarking as a career as an author and freelance writer.
His books included a trilogy about the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1956, 1967 and 1973: “Warriors at Suez: Eisenhower Takes America into the Middle East” (1981), “Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East” (1984) and “Warriors Against Israel” (1988).
Reviewers praised the volumes for combining narrative thrust with compelling insights on Middle East tensions.
Writing about “Warriors Against Israel” in a Washington Post review, Archibald B. Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and a former high-level CIA official with expertise in the Middle East, called the book “not only a well-documented and authoritative account, but a riveting exposé of how Henry Kissinger nudged the United States from its position as umpire in the contest to one of strong alliance with Israel.”
Roosevelt said that he “was impressed by the originality of Neff’s presentation and surprised by his devastating conclusions, assembled from facts previously known to most of us only piecemeal. It is not only a good read, but essential background for serious students of developments in the Middle East today.”
Donald Lloyd Neff was born Oct. 15, 1930, in York, Pa. He served in the Army from 1948 to 1950 and briefly attended college before beginning his journalism career in 1954 in his home town. He then worked in Los Angeles for the old Mirror-News newspaper and United Press International. He joined the Los Angeles Times in 1960, where he was a Tokyo correspondent before moving to Vietnam for Time.
His marriages to Gertrude Stambaugh, Lucienne R. Neff and former Post health editor Abigail Trafford ended in divorce. Besides McMahon of Washington, his companion of 15 years, survivors include a son from his first marriage, Greg Neff of York; two stepchildren, Victoria Brett of Northampton, Mass., and Abigail Miller of Portland, Maine; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.