Paul Green Houston, a longtime Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and author of its popular weekly “Washington Insight” column, died late Sunday after a two-year battle with colon cancer. He was 52.
Houston joined the Los Angeles Times in 1965 as a staff writer in Los Angeles and was assigned to its Washington bureau in 1972. He first covered the California congressional delegation before his beat was expanded to include all of Congress. He served a term as chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the organization of news reporters assigned to Congress.
Houston played a prominent role in The Times’ coverage of the Watergate affair, including the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, and later in coverage of the Iran-Contra scandal. Several years ago, drawing on his experience and contacts, he took over the newspaper’s “Washington Insight” column, which features behind-the-scenes glimpses of the capital’s processes of power.
“He had the best sources of anyone on the Hill,” said Times Washington Bureau Chief Jack Nelson. “I covered impeachment with him, and he had better sources than I did. He was extremely well-liked.”
Said House Speaker Thomas J. Foley (D-Wash.), “Congress had a good many journalists covering the Hill in recent years, but Paul Houston was in the handful of the best. Few had covered it longer or better.”
Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), dean of the California delegation, said Houston always “treated the delegation with scrupulous fairness. He was always welcome in any office in the House.”
Houston, who was named after the Pulitzer-prize winning playwright and family friend Paul Green, was born into a writing family in Chapel Hill, N.C. His father, Noel Houston, was a prize-winning journalist and novelist who authored the best-selling 1946 novel “The Great Promise.” His mother, Kay Replogle Houston, was a noted gardener and cook.
Houston demonstrated an interest in journalism in his high school years and then as an English major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he wrote for the Daily Tar Heel and was assistant sports publicity director for the university. He was graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1963.
After graduation, he moved to Houston where he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle for a year, and then joined the San Francisco Examiner, where he worked for another year. In 1968, at age 25, he became the youngest recipient of a Nieman Fellowship for journalists at Harvard University.
He was an avid sportsman who enthusiastically pursued tennis, golf and body surfing, and, in fact, scored 81 in a golf match four days before entering the hospital for the last time this month. He was also a devoted cook, reader, trombonist and punster.
He is survived by his wife, Virginia; two daughters, Katherine and Susanna; and a sister, Diana Houston, all of the Washington area.