Helen Sloane Dudman, a former Washington Post editor who held executive positions with The Post’s broadcasting division and PBS and who drew widespread attention to her journalist husband’s 40-day captivity in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, died Feb. 19 at an assisted-living center in Blue Hill, Maine. She was 93.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said a daughter, Iris Dudman.
Mrs. Dudman edited The Post’s women’s section from 1965 to 1969, leaving when the Style section was born. She became director of public relations for Post-Newsweek stations.
In 1970, her husband, St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist Richard Dudman, was captured by Viet Cong-aligned forces while covering the war in Vietnam. He and two other reporters, Elizabeth Pond of the Christian Science Monitor and Michael Morrow of Dispatch News Service International, were held for 40 days in Cambodia.
During that time, Mrs. Dudman used her contacts among the Washington press corps, on Capitol Hill and in diplomatic circles to bring attention to the case. When her husband and the other journalists were released, Mrs. Dudman received a telephone call at 4 a.m., with an overseas operator saying, “This is Richard Dudman, calling from Saigon.”
Mrs. Dudman told The Post that she had no doubt that her husband would survive the ordeal.
“I knew all along he’d be home,” she said. “He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his objectivity as a reporter or his life. In 1954, when he was covering a Guatemala revolution his editor told him, ‘A dead correspondent is no use to us — and an injured one is worse.’ He’s used that as his guide.”
When Richard Dudman returned to the family’s home in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, Mrs. Dudman helped organize a block party that included many political dignitaries among the 1,000 guests.
“This occasion makes me feel like Huckleberry Finn sneaking in to attend his own funeral,” Richard Dudman said at the time. He later published a book about his experiences, “Forty Days With the Enemy,” and credited his wife with securing his release.
Helen Rosalyn Sloane was born Jan. 13, 1925, in Cincinnati and grew up in Chicago. Her father was a salesman, her mother a homemaker.
In 1946, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She married Richard Dudman in 1948, and they lived in St. Louis before moving to Washington in 1954.
Mrs. Dudman was publicity director of the National Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1965. After working for The Post and for the company’s broadcasting division, she was a vice president for PBS.
In 1979, she bought three radio stations in Maine, where she and her family had long spent summers. She and her husband settled permanently in Ellsworth, Maine, in 1981. Mrs. Dudman and a daughter, Martha Tod Dudman, operated the radio stations until selling the business in 1999.
As a civic activist, Mrs. Dudman helped implement reforms to Maine’s workers’ compensation program, chaired the state’s Judicial Responsibility and Disability Committee and was a board member of the Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. and the state’s electrical utility provider.
In the 1990s, as a Knight International Press Fellow, she helped establish community radio stations in South Africa.
Her husband died last year after 69 years of marriage. Survivors include two daughters, Martha Tod Dudman of Northeast Harbor, Maine, and Iris Dudman, formerly known as Janet, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.
When Mrs. Dudman received the phone call from her husband in 1970, announcing that he had been freed from captivity, he said he and the other journalists held in Cambodia had subsisted primarily on rice and warm water.
“I’m throwing out all our rice,” Mrs. Dudman said at the time.