March 29, 1925–March 19, 2001
Chestertown, MD, March 20, 2001 — Richard Harwood, a retired reporter, editor, columnist and ombudsman for the Washington Post and a Senior Fellow and former trustee of Washington College, died of cancer March 19 at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 75.
Harwood's career in journalism spanned five decades and brought him national prominence as a political writer of uncompromising integrity, an unflinching critic of the news business and an exacting reporter and editor who shaped the journalistic standards of his times.
During his long stint at the Washington Post, he served at various times as a national correspondent, national editor and assistant managing editor, deputy managing editor, ombudsman and editorial columnist. He covered political campaigns, including those of Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, and conflicts, including the Vietnam war, the civil wars in Lebanon, Angola, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and the British-Argentine war in the Falklands. Harwood was with Robert Kennedy in 1968 when he was shot in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Post Editor Ben Bradlee recalled that Harwood's phone call to file that story was the only occasion in his career when he yelled "Stop the presses!" Harwood retired from his fulltime position at the Washington Post in 1988, but continued to write his columns on American media.
Harwood's weekend home on Langford Creek near Chestertown brought him to the Washington College campus, first as a friend and neighbor, then, in 1990, as a Senior Fellow and lecturer in journalism. Outside the classroom, he met with student editors to critique the campus newspaper, The Elm. In 1992 he helped launch and directed a book publishing venture, the Literary House Press of Washington College, which publishes regional writing as well as scholarly lectures. From 1994 until 2000, Harwood served on the College's Board of Visitors and Governors, helping to shape academic policy and bringing a parade of prominent politicians and journalists to speak on campus. In 1995, in honor of Harwood's seventieth birthday, Washington College established an endowed fund in his name which provides an annual fellowship to a Washington College student editor and brings distinguished journalists to campus to share their views on controversial topics.
Harwood was born in Wisconsin where his father was a missionary to the Menominee Indians. He spent most of his childhood in a Nebraska farming community on the Great Plains and his adolescence in Oklahoma and Tennessee. After high school graduation in Nashville, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 and spent three years in the Pacific with the 5th Amphibious Corps, taking part in the Central Pacific campaigns for Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Iwo Jima and in the occupation of Japan.
He began his newspaper career in 1947 at the Nashville Tennessean, working while attending Vanderbilt University where he received a bachelor's degree in 1950. In 1952 he left the Tennessean for a reporting job at the Louisville Courier Journal & Times. In 1961 he was assigned to the papers' Washington bureau and in 1966 joined the Washington Post, first as a reporter, eventually serving as national editor and assistant managing editor and as the paper's first Ombudsman in 1970. In 1974 he became the editor of the Trenton Times, a subsidiary of the Post. He returned to the Post in 1976 and served as its deputy managing editor until his retirement in 1988. He continued to serve as Ombudsman for the Post and to write his columns on the American media.
Harwood authored or co-authored books, articles, essays and an original screenplay, including Lyndon, a biography of Lyndon Johnson, Tinian: The Perfect Landing, Guyana Massacre, and "Under Seige" (with Bob Woodward). His works were nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize.
Harwood was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow at Columbia University, and a Baltimore Sun Distinguished Lecturer at University of Maryland. He was a recipient of the Sigma Delta Chi Medal for National Reporting, the George Polk Memorial Award for National Reporting and for Criticism and was a member of the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Harwood is survived by his wife of fifty years, Beatrice Mosby Harwood of Bethesda and Chestertown, MD; by four children, Helen Harwood Minchik of Washington, DC, John Harwood of Silver Spring, MD, Richard Harwood of Cincinnati, OH, and David Harwood of Boulder, CO; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, March 23, at 11 a.m. at the The Navy Chapel, 3801 Nebraska Avenue, in NW Washington, DC. Arrangements for a service in Chestertown are still in the planning stages.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Harwood Journalism Fund at Washington College, 300 Washington Avenue, Chestertown, MD 21620.