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Esther Tufty, 89, Washington Journalist, Dies

May 08, 1986|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Esther Van Wagoner Tufty, who survived seven pacemaker operations, a mercy airlift to Berlin atop 10 tons of coal and a presidential campaign train wreck to make her probably the oldest working newsperson in the nation's capital, is dead at 89.

Tufty, who covered every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, died at a nursing home in suburban Alexandria, Va. on Sunday.

She was raised in Pontiac, Mich., and after high school, went to work for the newspaper there as assistant society editor for $7.50 a week. She continued newspaper work while attending the University of Wisconsin.

She came to Washington in 1935 and started the Tufty News Service for 26 small Michigan newspapers. At its height, her service provided stories to 300 newspapers.

Hurt in Dewey Train Wreck

During the 1944 presidential campaign, she was injured in the wreck of New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey's campaign train. When the Soviets blockaded Berlin after World War II, she flew into the city atop 10 tons of coal aboard an airlift transport. And before a national television audience in 1952, she climbed on top of a table to reach the man she wanted to interview.

Upon returning from Vietnam in 1966, she said: "It's my third war, not counting marriage."

Nicknamed "The Duchess" for her coronet of gold braids, Tufty continued to turn out copy from her office in the National Press Building despite cancer, the loss of an eye and the installation of seven heart pacemakers.

She continued to report until she suffered a stroke last December.

Headed Organizations

During her career, she served as president of the American Women in Radio and Television, the American Newspaper Women's Club and the Women's National Press Club.

In 1954, the State Department sent her on a speaking tour to Australia.

Among her awards were the Distinguished Service Award of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, recognizing her articles promoting hiring of the handicaped.

Divorced, she is survived by two sons and a brother, former Michigan Gov. Murray D. Van Wagoner.

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