Grant Dillman's Obit

Here's the obituary of former UPI executive Grant Dillman, who died on July 14, 2001:



ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 17 (UPI) -- Grant Dillman, a former vice president of United Press International whose journalism career spanned 10 presidential administrations, is remembered by colleagues as a newsman of uncompromising integrity who helped women and minorities move up in the profession.

Dillman, 83, died of heart failure Saturday at his home in Alexandria.

"I guess the thing that stands out most about him was his absolute integrity," said Ron Cohen, Gannett News Service executive editor and former UPI managing editor. "He guarded the integrity of our business and the integrity of UPI as well as anybody who ever lived. He just wouldn't compromise for anybody.

"He was a tremendous leader for our staff, making them hew to the line of what journalists are supposed to be," Cohen said. "He just believed that it was required of us to be as honorable and fair and unbiased and hard-digging as we could possibly be. There are a number of people in this business in various ways that take shortcuts, and Grant didn't take shortcuts. And hedidn't let anybody he supervised at UPI take shortcuts. He was tough but fair."

Dillman long had suffered from a mitral valve insufficiency. He had undergone surgery for mitral valve repair in 1989 and again in 1991 for mitral valve replacement.

Dillman began his career in journalism in 1939 as a copyboy for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, earning $15 a week. He was promoted to general assignment reporter a year later. In 1942, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Dillman lined up an ensign's commission in the Navy but failed his physical because of a defective heart valve. His efforts to join the Army Air Force as a artillery spotter and the U.S. Merchant Marine as a radio operator failed for the same reason.

Instead, Dillman landed a job with United Press in Columbus, at a starting salary of $35 a week, and became UP's Columbus bureau manager in 1943. He transferred to the Washington UP bureau in 1945, where one of his first major assignments was covering the postwar famine emergency, which saw Americans cut back on beer and beef to free scarce grain for Europe.

In 1948, Dillman helped cover the national nominating conventions and subsequent presidential election that saw Harry S. Truman upset New YorkGov. Thomas E. Dewey. He covered all other nominating conventions and elections through 1980.

Dillman became UPI news editor in 1963 and 10 years later was appointed UPI vice president and Washington bureau manager. UPI, having absorbed the old International News Service in 1958, had a Washington staff of some 130 in those years.

As reporter or editor, Dillman was involved in UPI's coverage of the Puerto Rican terrorist attack on Blair House while Truman was living there during a White House renovation, another Puerto Rican attack on the U.S. House of Representatives, Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy's anti-communist crusade and censure, the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy's assassination and Richard Nixon's Watergate coverup.

He directed UPI's coverage of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention which became known as a Chicago police riot against Vietnam War protesters, traveled through Africa with Nixon, interviewed Fidel Castro in Cuba, and went to bat personally and professionally for supporters of a Vietnam memorial on the Washington mall when the memorial was a controversial proposal.

"I thought he was a great editor," said former UPI White House bureaumanager Helen Thomas. "He was tremendous in the slot. On breaking news, that's really a hot seat. You could get a flash, like the Kennedy assassination, or when Nixon resigned, and you have to deal with breaking news bulletins, make crucial decisions on breaking news, and sometimes read the riot act to a reporter. He rose to every occasion and was cool under fire.

"I thought newspapering really was in his blood," Thomas said. "He was always involved, even after he retired from UPI, which he loved."

Dillman was known to his colleagues for his efforts to promote young people, minorities and women. In a precedent-setting move, he appointed Thomas as UPI's White House bureau chief and in 1975 he campaigned relentlessly to get Thomas elected to the previously all-male Gridiron Club.

Dillman resigned from the National Press Club in the 1970s when the club declined to admit women and he joined the Washington Press Club, which had been known as the Women's National Press Club, instead. He rejoined the NPC when it opened its doors to women and was given his old membership number -- 208.

"He helped me become bureau chief at the White House, and get in the Gridiron (when I was faced) with a lot of resistance from the old guard,"Thomas said. "I was the first woman in the Gridiron, in 1975. I owe him a great debt of gratitude."

Dillman retired from UPI in 1983, after Scripps-Howard, the parent company that had owned it since its founding by E.W. Scripps in 1907, turned the wire service over to the first in a series of new owners. But Dillman remained active in journalism.

"Grant's professionalism and ethics remain a model for UPI," said Tobin Beck, UPI executive editor. "Those who work for the company now are grateful for his example."

"What Grant Dillman achieved was to protect the highest journalistic standards at a time when there were strong commercial pressures to dilute them. He himself thus set a high standard for all his successors," said John O'Sullivan, UPI editor in chief.

In 1984 Dillman became executive director of the Washington Press Foundation, which encourages good journalism through grants and seminars, and in 1986 he established the Washington Freedom Center of the Society of Professional Journalists.

From 1987 to 1997, he was senior editorial adviser and a contributing editor to Maturity News Service. Dillman was elected to the Sigma Delta Chi Hall of Fame in 1978 for his "lifelong dedication to the highest standards of journalism." He served as president of the Gridiron Club, the nation's oldest newspaper club, in 1980.

By the time he finally went into "semi-retirement" -- he was still writing the day he died -- Dillman had covered every president from Truman to Bill Clinton.

He was divorced from his first wife, Jeanne Ford Roeth, a former Columbus Dispatch reporter, in 1943. Dillman's second wife, Audrey Maslow Dillman, a UPI alumna who became a writer-editor with NBC news, died in 1984.

He is survived by his third wife, UPI alumna Gwen Gibson; one daughter, Jo Marenberg; two sons, Dr. Darryl Dillman and Craig Dillman, and four grandchildren, Scott and Jennifer Kunkle and Michael and Ryan Dillman.

Dillman's wish was that any donations made in his name go to Washington's SOME (So Others May Eat) charity.