Tom Plate, former L.A. Times editor and leading expert on Asia, dies

Tom Plate, a former Los Angeles Times editorial editor
(Jon Rou / Loyola Marymount University)

Tom Plate, a former Los Angeles Times editorial editor and leading expert on Asia and China’s relationship with the United States, died May 23 of natural causes. He was 79.

“I will be forever grateful to Professor Plate for his loving friendship, humor, and unparalleled global imagination,” wrote Loyola Marymount University President Timothy Law Snyder. “Tom was instrumental in bringing world leaders like the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to LMU.”

The native New Yorker published books, became a syndicated columnist, and taught journalism and Asian Pacific American Studies at private and public universities. His interest in international policy became apparent at Amherst College when he wrote an editorial for the student newspaper chastising the U.S.’ involvement in the Vietnam War.


He later dedicated his life to studying Asia early in his journalism career at a time when American media appeared more focused on Europe and the Middle East.

Plate held top roles at various publications such as the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Family Weekly, Time and New York Magazine. He founded Newsday’s Sunday Ideas section.

By 1989, the L.A. Times hired Plate as editor of the editorial section. “I’m pleased that we’re able to bring Tom Plate, an innovative editor and fine writer, back to Los Angeles,” said David Laventhol, then-publisher and chief executive of The Times.

“I happen to believe editorial pages are extremely important to a newspaper that seeks to be of consequence to the community it serves,” Plate said.

In 1994, Plate left journalism to teach at UCLA and later LMU. As a professor, he helped students break into the journalism industry and develop an interest in world policy. Plate hoped his columns and the nonprofit he founded — the Asia Pacific Media Network — could help readers and students learn about the region and its impact in the U.S.

“Whether you’re at LMU or UCLA or USC ... what is going to be the world facing them in five, 10 years,” he said in a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Loyolan. “It’s going to be a world where China, India and the rest of Asia [are] going to be the big deal like the U.S. was in the 20th century.”

Plate is survived by his wife, Andrea; their daughter, Ashley Keys; and his extended family.