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John F. Burby, 77; Journalist Wrote L.A. Times Editorials


John F. "Jack" Burby, deputy editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times through much of the 1980s and a gifted editorial writer, died Saturday at his home in Avila Beach near San Luis Obispo. He was 77, and the cause of death was lung and brain cancer.

A native of Benton Harbor, Mich., Burby served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot during World War II, ferrying planes throughout the South Pacific.

After his discharge in 1947, Burby took a reporting job with United Press in Hawaii and attended the University of Hawaii. He left the wire service in 1951 and joined the Honolulu Advertiser, working there until he came to the mainland in 1956 for a job at the San Francisco Chronicle.

After completing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard in 1959-60, he worked as press secretary to California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. He stayed with Brown through much of the 1960s before working briefly in Washington as special assistant to Alan Boyd, the U.S. secretary of transportation.

He stayed in the East for much of the next decade, first as an editor at the National Journal and then as president of Potomac Policy Inc., a federal policy consulting firm that focused on energy and environmental issues.

He joined The Times as an editorial writer in 1978.

Anthony Day, who edited the Times' editorial page for 18 years and is now retired, recalled Burby on Saturday as "a very jaunty guy, both as a person and a thinker."

Burby "was an unusual newspaperman, in that he had the mind of an engineer," Day said. "He loved technology, and that love of technology helped him on missile defense issues, including Star Wars."

Burby served as deputy editor of the editorial pages until 1989 when he returned to editorial writing full time. He left the paper in the early 1990s and worked briefly for the New York Times, also writing editorials, before retiring.

"He was writing editorials at a time when government was unfashionable," Day said. "Jack always believed very strongly in the wise use of government, by which the people did things for themselves together that they could not do individually."

Burby's wife, Lois Luke, died in 1994. He is survived by his longtime companion, Joyce Palaia; children, Karen Norman, Meg Burby, David Burby and Timothy Burby; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Contributions in his name may be sent to any of these organizations: the redwood conservation group Semper Virens, Drawer BE, Los Altos, CA 94023; the Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, 27 South St., Suite R, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401; and Friends of the River, 915 20th St., Sacramento, CA 95814.

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