William Ringle, a chief Washington correspondent for Gannett News Service who nimbly covered foreign policy and national affairs and who was known for taking a dim view of opinion writing, died Sept. 5 at a retirement home in Davidson, N.C. He was 88.
The death, from colon cancer, was confirmed by a former colleague, columnist Jack Germond, who called Mr. Ringle “one of the finest reporters I ever knew.”
Mr. Ringle was drawn to journalism at 13 when his junior high school paper in Upstate New York sent him to interview the silent-film cowboy Tom Mix, who was staying in the area. “Or, to be accurate,” he recalled, “I interviewed his pointed boots. They were sticking out from under his spectacular white Cord automobile on which he was working.”
In another early career highlight, Mr. Ringle, by then a professional reporter in Rome, N.Y., dressed as a clown to cover a visiting circus.
The rest of his career played out in a less frivolous fashion. He advanced through the ranks of the Gannett organization, starting at the old Rochester Times-Union in 1951. He chronicled the administration of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) as Gannett’s state capital bureau chief in Albany, N.Y., from 1959 to 1965.
Afterward, Mr. Ringle became managing editor of the Saratogian, a newspaper serving an Upstate New York region near Saratoga Springs. He wrote editorials, a job he found less than rewarding.
He made the piquant observation: “Editorial writing is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling all over, and nobody notices.”
Not long after, Mr. Ringle settled into Gannett News Service’s Washington bureau. He wrote about national affairs, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and accompanied President Richard M. Nixon to China on the landmark visit in 1972.
Mr. Ringle developed a reputation for pivoting deftly from coverage of major world events to stories that were of a decidedly local angle for the smallest of Gannett’s papers.
When he retired in 1988, Mr. Ringle was saluted by the company’s news chief, John Quinn: “Only Bill Ringle, on a visit to Lebanon in 1970, would have filed stories about an acting ambassador from Rochester, a drug suspect from Niagara Falls and an American drug agent from Hartford.
“And only Bill, dispatched to cover the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow for the nation’s largest newspaper group, would offer to write two stories about a touring local volleyball team for one of the group’s smallest papers, in Sturgis, Mich.”
William McKinley Ringle Jr. was born Jan. 7, 1923, in Gloversville, N.Y. He graduated in 1943 from Hamilton College in Upstate New York, then served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.
In 1948, he married Marie Mahoney. Besides his wife, of Davidson, survivors include three children, William Ringle III of Davidson, Sarah Ringle of New York City and Christine Day of Vincennes, Ind.; a sister; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
In retirement, Mr. Ringle continued to write freelance articles for Gannett focused on one of his subspecialities: the U.S. Tax Court, which he found bursting with offbeat news items.
One article, in 1994, concerned a delinquent multimillion-dollar tax bill sent by the Internal Revenue Service to the dead Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
He pointed out helpful explanations from the IRS to the late Marcos, who died in 1989 while exiled in Hawaii: “You were a resident alien. . . . You are taxable on your income. . . . You realized income. . . . Your tax is computed. . . . You are entitled to claim one exemption.”
“There’s nothing as sure as death and taxes,” Mr. Ringle wrote, “and Ferdinand Marcos is proving it.”