Veteran journalist William J. Coughlin, a former Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent who as editor of a small North Carolina newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1990, died Thursday at a hospice facility in Bolivia, N.C. He was 91.
Coughlin, who split his time between homes in Southport, N.C., and Ireland, had liver cancer, said his daughter, Kerry.
He began his tenure with The Times in 1968 as New Delhi bureau chief, covering Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam. He later served as Middle East bureau chief, based in Beirut, until 1975.
By the late 1980s Coughlin was executive editor of the Washington Daily News, a family-owned newspaper with a circulation of 10,000 in eastern North Carolina. With an editorial staff of only seven, Coughlin directed an investigation that revealed the water supply for the city of Washington was contaminated with carcinogens. In a series of articles, the paper documented that for more than eight years city officials were aware of the problems but did not disclose them.
In the aftermath, the mayor was voted out of office, the state changed its water quality regulations, and the Pulitzer board honored the paper for distinguished public service.
"I will say we haven't had this much excitement in this town since the Union cavalry and the Confederate cavalry chased each other up Main Street in 1862, and there's been nothing like that since," Coughlin told The Times after the Pulitzer Prizes were announced in April 1990.
Coughlin was born May 29, 1922, in Washington, D.C. During World War II he flew P-38s for the Army Air Forces in the Pacific. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University.
He began his lengthy reporting career in 1947 with United Press International in San Francisco, Hawaii and Mexico. In 1952 he joined McGraw-Hill World News as its London bureau chief, then took over the Moscow bureau. He moved to London's Financial Times and Sunday Times in 1959 and covered then-Vice President Nixon's visit to Moscow and his kitchen debate with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Coughlin returned to the United States to become editor of the weekly magazine Missiles and Rockets before coming to The Times. After he left the paper in 1975, he joined the staff of California Sen. John Tunney as public affairs director and foreign policy adviser.
Editing jobs at the Wilmington (N.C.) Star News and the Washington Times followed before he landed at the Washington Daily News.
Coughlin also taught journalism at Francis Marion University in South Carolina and wrote books.
He is survived by his second wife, Patricia Conlon; three children; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.