Dick Harnett's Obit

(Here's the obit for veteran UPI newsman Richard M. Harnett, who died Feb. 24, 2001. Harnett established the Downhold listserv and contributed much to keeping alive the history of UPI.)


PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Richard M. Harnett, San Francisco bureau manager for United Press International during the 1980s, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Palo Alto. He was 74.

Harnett joined UPI in 1951. During his 36 years with the company he was Pacific Division business editor, California state editor, chief day news editor and Asia editor during the Korean War. Among the stories he covered were the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State student uprisings, and the Patty Hearst kidnapping. He left UPI in 1987, going to Market News International to help establish its news operation.

"He'll be missed," said Tobin Beck, UPI executive editor. "He did a lot of important work in compiling and keeping alive the history of United Press, International News Service, Acme Photo and all the agencies that were predecessors of UPI."

"Dick was a top-flight professional, who knew what key West Coast ingredients were most valuable to the subscribers of our financial news service," Tony Mace, Market News managing editor, said.

Harnett was born in Devils Lake, N.D., educated in the primary schools of Grand Forks N.D. and Crosier Preparatory School in Onamia, Minn. He earned his journalism degree from Marquette University after a stint in the public information office of the Army of occupation in Japan immediately after World War II. He went to work at UPI's San Francisco bureau after a year at the Catholic Witness in Dubuque, Iowa.

After retirement he wrote Wirespeak, a book about wire service and newspaper jargon. He also founded and edited the newsletter 95 and the Internet's Downhold Wire, both for ex-Unipressers. At the time of his death, his history of UPI was being readied for publication.

"Dick's labors of love in starting 95, the Downhold Wire, and initiating the history project are tremendously important not only for providing a forum for company alumni to keep in touch, but in keeping alive the values and traditions that made UPI a force in world journalism," Beck said.

"Dick was the essence of a Unipresser, wry and unflappable," remarked Art McGinn, who worked with Harnett in San Francisco. "Few could chisel a better news story or worked harder at it, or took more pleasure in it."

Harnett was a founding member of the Wire Service Guild, a unit of the American Newspaper Guild, and was on its executive committee for 10 years, also editing its newsletter. He also edited the Seafarer's International local newspaper for two years, taught editing and reporting at San Francisco State University and DeAnza College and freelanced for Time, Fortune and The New York Times. He was a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in San Francisco and was for a year its treasurer.

"He was a giant among us, the personification of what UPI was all about," Downhold member John Barton wrote to the Downhold Wire.

As a volunteer in the '60s and '70s, Harnett organized and then managed a 100-member youth group on the San Francisco Peninsula, the Conquistadors Drum and Bugle Corps. He was also president of FreeWheelers, a non-profit organization that provided outings for the wheelchair-bound in San Francisco. At the time of his death, he was a member of the San Francisco Retired Newspaper People Association, the Peninsula Press Club and Knights of St. Matthew's Parish, San Mateo.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Joyce, and seven children: Mary Lumb of Fort Collins, Colo., Tim of Mountain View, Calif., John of Morrison, Colo., Richard Jr., of San Diego; Gerry of Denver; Eugene of Eagle River, Alaska, and James of Felton, Calif. He is also survived by son-in-law Richard Lumb, and daughter-in-laws Katherine, Candi, Juli, Yoshiko and Pam, and 15 grandchildren: Colleen, April, Mitchell, Ryan, Sean, Jocelyn, Whitney, Shelby, Nathan, Christopher, Geoffrey, Dominick, Joshua, Noah and Natalie. He also leaves three sisters, Mary Catherine Hennessy of Pacific Palisades, Calif., Margaret Peterson of Grand Forks, N.D., and Gertrude Woychick of Waseca, Minn., and many nieces and nephews.

Vigil services will be held at St. Matthew's Catholic Church in San Mateo on Monday at 7:30 p.m. A funeral mass will be said at St. Matthew's on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.