William Tuohy dies at 83; Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times foreign correspondent
William Tuohy, a former longtime Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War, has died. He was 83.
Tuohy died Thursday morning after open heart surgery at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said Adam Wheeler, Tuohy’s stepson.
FOR THE RECORD:
Tuohy obituary: The obituary of former Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent William Tuohy in Section A on Jan. 1 did not include his siblings in the list of surviving family members. They are his brother, James S. Tuohy; his sisters, Lolita Tuohy and Julia Glab; and his stepbrother, William Littlejohn. —
During his 29 years at The Times, Tuohy served as bureau chief in Saigon, Beirut, Rome, Bonn and London. In that time, he covered wars and conflicts not only in Southeast Asia but the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Iran and the Falkland Islands, among other places.
When he was awarded his Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for international reporting for his coverage of the Vietnam War, Pulitzer judges noted that “few correspondents have seen and written more about the war in Vietnam than William Tuohy.”
In 1970, while he was The Times’ bureau chief in Beirut, he won an Overseas Press Club award for best reporting of foreign affairs.
Tuohy was Newsweek magazine’s Saigon bureau chief in 1966 when he was hired to become The Times’ bureau chief there.
“He was a great reporter, a wonderful writer, and he was steady on the ground. You could trust his judgment,” said Bob Gibson, the former Times foreign editor who hired Tuohy.
In Vietnam, Gibson said, “he was out in the field a lot. He covered everything; he was a 360-degree reporter.”
As a correspondent, Tuohy was known for being extremely adept at “hitting the ground running.”
“He could arrive in some hellhole by plane in the early afternoon, assess the situation, talk to the right people and file a spot-on assessment within hours,” said Jon Thurber, a Times managing editor who worked on the paper’s foreign desk when Tuohy was overseas. “He just knew intuitively how to work under extremely high pressure.”
Gibson remembers Tuohy, who retired from The Times in 1995, as being “an ebullient, charming fellow who, above all, [was] very courageous.”
After Times correspondent Joe Alex Morris Jr. was killed in Tehran covering the 1979 Iranian revolution and the borders were sealed, Tuohy flew in a Times-chartered jet to the Revolutionary Guard-held airfield in Tehran to retrieve the body.
Getting into Iran, however, was a long shot.
“Nobody was getting in,” Gibson said. “We were the only ones to get in. A high-ranking government official in Iran gave us permission to bring our airplane in to get the body.”
When Tuohy’s plane landed, it was surrounded by Revolutionary Guards. The coffin was loaded and the jet flew to Athens, where Morris was based.
“It was a long shot that it would work, but it did work,” Gibson said. “It was so dramatic, the American Embassy people in Athens, after we accomplished it, told us they never expected us to succeed, and they congratulated us.”
For Jonathan Randal, a former Washington Post foreign correspondent who was working for the New York Times when he first met Tuohy in Vietnam, Tuohy epitomized the romantic image of a foreign correspondent.
“Most journalists are slobs and look like slobs, but Bill looked like what most people think a foreign correspondent ought to look like: He was tall, had this beautiful shock of white hair and was always impeccably dressed,” Randal said.
When Tuohy was Rome bureau chief, Randal said, he and another journalist commissioned Gucci to make cases for their lightweight typewriters.
Said Alvin Shuster, who succeeded Gibson as The Times’ foreign editor: “You could tell what he did for a living by his aura, his enthusiasm and his passion. He was well-liked by his sources -- by generals in Vietnam, sheiks in the Middle East and blue-bloods in London. He was a model for foreign correspondents of his time.”
As a correspondent, Randal said, “Bill had the ability to see stories and see how they could be told; he was a great storyteller.”
Describing Tuohy as “absolutely charming, clever and amusing,” Randal added that “he was absolutely wonderful company at the dinner table and wonderful company in the field. He was basically unflappable; he’d done everything.”
Novelist Ward Just, a former Washington Post foreign correspondent who also met Tuohy in Vietnam, recalled that he and Tuohy spent a lot of time together with units in the field.
“What was interesting about that was Bill had a gimp leg [from a train crash in 1947], and he was just limping like a crazy man, but it never seemed to bother him at all. He had a great spirit and great joie de vivre.”
Tuohy was born in Chicago on Oct. 1, 1926, and served in the Navy in the Pacific from 1945 to ’46.
After graduating with honors from Northwestern University in 1951, he began his career in journalism, working first as a copy boy and then reporter and night city editor at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1952 to 1959.
He then joined Newsweek in New York as a writer, editor and national political correspondent.
He covered the 1964 presidential campaign before volunteering to become Newsweek’s Saigon bureau chief in late 1964. His Newsweek bureau won the National Headliners Award in 1965.
Tuohy wrote three books: “Dangerous Company” (1987), a memoir of his days as a war correspondent; “The Bravest Man: The Story of Richard O’Kane and U.S. Submariners in the Pacific War” (2001); and “America’s Fighting Admirals: Winning the War at Sea in World War II” (2007).
In addition to his stepson, he is survived by his wife, Rose Marie; his son from a previous marriage, Cyril; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Gates Kingsley & Gates Moeller Murphy funeral home, 1925 Arizona Ave., Santa Monica. Instead of flowers, Tuohy’s family suggests contributions in his name to the Overseas Press Club Foundation, where a memorial scholarship will be created.
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