He was a ‘true re­nais­sance man’

World War II lured him to be a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY SU­SAN TAY­LOR MARTIN Times Se­nior Cor­re­spon­dent

Wil­bur Lan­drey, who spent decades as the chief for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the St. Pe­ters­burg Times ,wasa cap­ti­vat­ing per­son­al­ity and gifted writer. He died Fri­day at age 93 in a Largo nurs­ing home of com­pli­ca­tions from pneu­mo­nia.

ST. PE­TERS­BURG — Among the first sto­ries Wil­bur Lan­drey covered as the St. Pe­ters­burg Times chief for­eign cor­re­spon­dent was the 1976 earth­quake in Gu­atemala that killed 23,000.

He and Times pho­tog­ra­pher Ri­cardo Ferro checked into a ho­tel that was “kind of tilt­ing,” Mr. Lan­drey later re­called. The next day, as he was writ­ing a story, a se­vere af­ter­shock hit and the ta­ble be­gan to skid across the room.

“We were on the first floor — or fourth floor, or sixth floor, it got higher in the telling as time went on — and I looked out the win­dow. There was Ric, who was more scared than I was, yelling, ‘Jump! Jump!’ ”

Mr. Lan­drey did not, and went on to spend an­other two decades chron­i­cling the big­gest in­ter­na­tional sto­ries of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Lan­drey, who died Fri­day at age 93 in a Largo nurs­ing home of com­pli­ca­tions from pneu­mo­nia, “was a true re­nais­sance man,” re­called long­time friend Pat Tyler, a former New York Times chief for­eign cor­re­spon­dent who first met Mr. Lan­drey while both worked for the St. Pe­ters­burg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). “He was just a cap­ti­vat­ing per­son­al­ity be­cause of the arc of his­tory he had lived and ob­served as a jour­nal­ist. He knew the world and all I knew was the po­lice beat.”

How­ell Raines, an­other St. Pe­ters­burg Times alum and former ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the New York Times, re­mem­bers trav­el­ing with Mr. Lan­drey as both covered the 1987 re-elec­tion cam-

paign of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher.

“At that time I was Lon­don bureau chief and I had a car and driver and we teamed up and had our­selves driven around Eng­land go­ing to cam­paign ral­lies and do­ing a bit of pub crawling,” Raines said Fri­day. “He was a won­der­ful jour­nal­ist and a very bal­anced per­son in terms of his world view and his pol­i­tics. And he was a lovely writer.”

Born in 1923 in Kansas City, Kan., Mr. Lan­drey came by his jour­nal­ism chops nat­u­rally — his grand­fa­ther was a tramp printer who set up type for weekly news­pa­pers be­fore start­ing one of his own, and his fa­ther, who died when Mr. Lan­drey was 12, was a re­porter for the Kansas City Star.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Columbia Univer­sity, Mr. Lan­drey hoped to serve in World War II. But a scar on his lungs from child­hood tu­ber­cu­lo­sis made him in­el­i­gi­ble for mil­i­tary duty so he joined the United Press news ser­vice.

“I fig­ured the way to get to Europe was as a cor­re­spon­dent,” he re­called for a St. Pe­ters­burg

story on his re­tire­ment in Times


Mr. Lan­drey spent four years in New York, then trans­ferred to the Lon­don bureau. There he met Gene Pat­ter­son, who ran UP’s Lon­don op­er­a­tion. When Mr. Lan­drey be­came bureau chief in Paris (he spoke flu­ent French with a Mid­west­ern twang), he bought a car and in­vited Gene and Sue Pat­ter­son to va­ca­tion with him in the south of France. On the way back to Lon­don, Mr. Lan­drey was de­ter­mined to dine at one of the very few restau­rants awarded three stars by the Miche­lin guide­book.

“He called the restau­rant and said, ‘We’re a cou­ple of wealthy Amer­i­cans’ — we were mak­ing about $125 a week then — ‘and we’d like you to choose the menu and the wines,’” Pat­ter­son re­called years later. “The chef him­self greeted us and we went into a mag­nif­i­cent din­ner” — foie gras, chicken cooked be­tween rocks and a su­perb bot­tle of Nuits-St-Georges.

To­gether, Mr. Lan­drey and Pat­ter­son covered some of the big­gest sto­ries of the ’50s — the Eisen­hower-Khrushchev sum­mit, Win­ston Churchill’s re­tire­ment, the mar­riage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier. (On the lat­ter they wrote un­der the by­line “El­iz­a­beth Toomey” be­cause their bosses thought a wed­ding should be covered by a woman.)

In 1965, Mr. Lan­drey met Bev­erly Put­nam at a din­ner in Paris ar­ranged by one of her friends.

In its own way, Put­nam’s life was as un­usual as that of her fu­ture hus­band. She had been a pro­fes­sional hula dancer and or­ga­nizer of the “first all-girl African sa­fari.” It was such a novel idea — draw­ing in women ages 27 to 68 — that writer S. J. Perel­man chron­i­cled it in the New Yorker mag­a­zine.

The Lan­dreys mar­ried in 1967. His ca­reer took them to Buenos Aires, then to New York, where Mr. Lan­drey be­came for­eign ed­i­tor of United Press In­ter­na­tional. He was among the first jour­nal­ists to tour China af­ter Richard Nixon’s land­mark visit.

By the mid ’70s, Pat­ter­son had be­come ed­i­tor of the St. Pe­ters­burg Times and per­suaded Mr. Lan­drey to join him in Florida.

St. Pe­ters­burg was hardly a world cap­i­tal, but Mr. Lan­drey drew on his years of ex­pe­ri­ence and enor­mous net­work of con­tacts to keep up with events. He pro­grammed a short-wave ra­dio to wake him ev­ery morn­ing with the BBC’s in­ter­na­tional news.

“He just brought a level of world­li­ness and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to a news­room that was above av­er­age but didn’t have a lot of peo­ple with in­ter­na­tional reach, and he did so in a very un­in­tim­i­dat­ing way,” Raines said.

Mr. Lan­drey fre­quently wrote col­umns: His opin­ions drew flak from some read­ers who thought he was too crit­i­cal of Is­rael and too sym­pa­thetic to the Arabs and Pales­tini­ans. He also trav­eled ex­ten­sively, and in 1989 per­suaded Times ed­i­tors to let him move to Europe and open a bureau.

“His pitch,” Pat­ter­son later said, “was, why not send him to Paris and save on all this transat­lantic air­fare? He was a one-per­son for­eign ser­vice.”

In 1996, the Times closed its Paris bureau as Mr. Lan­drey, the old­est U.S. cor­re­spon­dent ac­tively work­ing in Europe, de­cided to re­tire at 73. It had been a re­mark­able ca­reer, span­ning a half cen­tury in which he first filed his sto­ries by Morse code and even­tu­ally by lap­top com­puter. The Lan­dreys moved back to St. Pe­ters­burg and re­mained close friends with the Pat­ter­sons un­til Sue Pat­ter­son’s death in 1998 and Gene Pat­ter­son’s in 2013.

Even to­ward the end of his life, Mr. Lan­drey re­mained in­ter­ested in for­eign af­fairs. And Bev­erly Lan­drey, now 95, can still see him in her mind’s eye head­ing off on yet an­other as­sign­ment.

“I re­mem­ber look­ing out the win­dow in Paris and see­ing him with his type­writer or com­puter head­ing down the street to the air­port or the train sta­tion. I al­ways kept watch­ing him leave and won­der­ing when he’d get back. He had the life he wanted; he loved that life.”

Fu­neral ar­range­ments are pend­ing.

Wil­bur Lan­drey, 93, the re­tired chief for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the Times, died Fri­day.

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