William R. Stall, a longtime staff member of the Los Angeles Times who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2004, died Sunday at his home in Sacramento. He was 71.
Stall had been in failing health much of the year and died of complications from pulmonary disease, according to Times columnist George Skelton, a friend and colleague.
In his nearly 50-year journalism career, Stall focused on reporting government and politics, natural resources and the environment. He followed nearly every California governor since Ronald Reagan was sent to Sacramento in 1967 through the recall of Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Pulitzer board said that his editorials on California’s troubled state government “prescribed remedies and served as a model for addressing complex state issues.” The editorials, written in October, November and December 2003, may be found on The Times’ website at latimes.com/billstall.
“Bill’s legacy is his work,” Jim Newton, the editorial page editor of The Times, said Sunday. “He was an incisive analyst of California government and politics whose writing on those subjects is as current today as it was when he wrote it -- testament to his prescience as well as to the enormity of the subjects he tackled. We’d be a better state if more people had listened to him at the time.”
The unpretentious Stall, who used the name Bill in his byline, would tell friends that in addition to his Pulitzer entries, he was extremely proud of a series of editorials he wrote in 2001 on Senate Bill 221, a measure put forth by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) that required developers of large projects -- 500 units or more -- to show that the homes would have a long-term water supply. No other state in the West had such a law on the books.
Randele Kanouse, the lobbyist for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, said that although the concept seemed simple, the utility had tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to get such a measure approved despite firm opposition from the building industry.
Kanouse said Stall was extremely helpful in making a strong case for the legislation.
“Bill understood this issue intuitively. Other reporters and editorial writers didn’t grasp it as quickly as Bill did. They could not express it with the force, power and eloquence that Stall brought to it,” Kanouse said.
The measure passed both houses and was signed into law by Davis.
Stall was born in Philadelphia on Feb. 21, 1937. His parents, Sidney J. and Helen R. Stall, moved the family, which consisted of three children, to Big Horn, Wyo., in 1942 to operate a small ranch. Stall’s father also found part-time work at the local newspaper, the Sheridan Press, and later owned a weekly newspaper.
After graduating from high school, Stall majored in journalism at the University of Wyoming and started working for the Laramie Daily Bulletin as sports editor. He was still a college student when he began covering city-county government for the Bulletin, which by then had merged with another newspaper and had the unusual name of the Daily Boomerang.
Stall later studied at Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University and served in the National Guard before being hired by the Associated Press in Cheyenne. He later worked as the AP’s Reno correspondent before transferring to the Sacramento bureau, where he worked as bureau chief from 1966 to 1974.
In 1975 and 1976, Stall worked briefly for Gov. Jerry Brown as press secretary and director of public affairs. He joined The Times in 1976 as a writer for the paper’s Metro section and later covered energy policy and worked as an assistant Metro editor and then staff writer in the Washington bureau. He then left The Times to become the Washington bureau chief for the Hartford Courant, a sister newspaper in what was then the Times Mirror chain.
He returned to The Times in 1984 for his first tour as an editorial writer, followed by several years as a political writer.
He was an editorial writer based in Sacramento from 1997 until he left the paper in a staff reduction in 2006. Though Stall left the staff, his byline continued in the paper as a contributing editor to the Opinion pages up to the end of his life.
Skelton, who writes on California government, recalled Stall as “civil and courteous in a tense world of deadlines.” He also said Stall had “a sharp, dry sense of humor.”
“In his fading, final days, as he resigned himself to the inevitable, Bill’s wife asked him whether he didn’t want to be around for the election,” Skelton said. “He replied, ‘Yes, but since I’ve never died before, I don’t know how quickly the weakness will take over.’ ”
Skelton said Stall took the precaution of mailing in his absentee ballot.
He is survived by his wife, Anne Baker, a former member of the Maryland Legislature; and daughters Tracy Roll of River Pines, Calif., and Erica Wiggins of Austin, Texas, and six grandchildren.
The family suggests that instead of flowers, memorial donations be made to Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue, 7495 Natomas Road, Elverta, CA 95626.
Thurber is a Times staff writer.