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Ray Zeman; Former Times Bureau Chief

March 30, 1997|GEORGE RAMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ray Zeman, whose 40-year reporting career at The Times included stints as chief of the newspaper's Sacramento and Los Angeles County government bureaus, has died. He was 86.

Zeman's wife, Mary Alice, said he died Friday of a heart attack at a Long Beach convalescent home where he had been recuperating from hip surgery. He had been suffering from heart trouble and Parkinson's disease in recent years, she said.

Zeman won numerous awards for his reporting, including five awards in the 1940s and '50s from Theta Sigma Phi, then a national honorary and professional society of newswomen. He also was a winner in the annual Greater Los Angeles Press Club competition.

He had been a member of The Times' metropolitan staff for nearly 20 years when in 1959 he became chief of the paper's bureau covering Los Angeles County government. He quickly earned notice from then-Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, whose quest for publicity was legendary and who occasionally slammed reporters for not covering what he thought was big news.

At one supervisors meeting in 1961, Hahn complained that reporters had failed to write about a delegation of black ministers from Hahn's district who had visited county headquarters to complain about vice problems.

"Not so," said Zeman, who with other reporters had to sit through Hahn's denunciation. Zeman telephoned The Times' library, which found his story about the ministers' visit and dispatched it to the supervisors' meeting. There, Zeman presented the article to an embarrassed Hahn.

"The pressroom is agog" over Hahn's apology, Times colleague Maury Beam wrote. "This is history!"

In 1965, Zeman was named Sacramento bureau chief to cover Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and the man who succeeded him, Ronald Reagan.

After Reagan took office, Zeman covered the bruising budget battles between the Democrat-controlled Legislature and the Republican governor.

In 1968, he returned to Los Angeles to cover county government as The Times' bureau chief. He retired in 1976.

Zeman joined The Times in 1936 after 1 1/2 years at the old Los Angeles Examiner. While at The Times, Zeman served two years as aviation editor and 6 1/2 years as an assistant city editor.

In addition to his wife, Zeman is survived by a daughter, Barbara Johnson of Santa Cruz, a son, Robert of Santa Barbara, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services were pending.

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