YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

William Woo, 69; First Asian American Editor of Major U.S. Newspaper

April 14, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

William Woo, who became the first Asian American editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States when he was named editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the mid-1980s, has died. He was 69.

Woo, a visiting professor of journalism at Stanford University for the past decade and the interim director of the university's graduate journalism program, died Wednesday from complications of cancer at his home in Palo Alto, Stanford officials said.

Woo had been editor of the Post-Dispatch's editorial page for 13 years when he was named editor in 1986. The job had previously been held by three Joseph Pulitzers -- the paper's legendary founder, who established the annual Pulitzer Prize in journalism, his son and his grandson.

Woo was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times during his 34 years at the Post-Dispatch -- for national reporting in 1971, foreign reporting in 1977 and commentary in 1991.

A former reporter for the Kansas City Star, Woo joined the Post-Dispatch as a feature writer in 1962. He later worked at the paper as a reporter, foreign correspondent, Washington columnist and editorial writer.

In 1996, after being forced out of his job when the Pulitzer Publishing Co. decided on a course of change that included a shuffling of newsroom leadership, Woo became the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor of Professional Journalism in the Department of Communication at Stanford.

"He was the backbone of the graduate program in journalism," communication professor Theodore Glasser said in a statement. "He very much set the tone for the program, intellectually and professionally."

The son of a Chinese father and an American mother who were journalists, Woo was born in Shanghai on Oct. 4, 1936.

His parents, who had met at the University of Missouri, divorced after World War II, and Woo moved with his mother to Kansas.

A 1960 graduate of the University of Kansas, where he received honors in English literature, Woo had launched his newspaper career in his junior year at the Kansas City Times.

"I'm pretty much of a romantic about journalism," Woo said in a 1996 interview with the American Journalism Review. "I still love to do it. How can you be disillusioned about an enterprise that is a wonderful opportunity for people to be better human beings?"

Woo, who was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in the late 1960s, served as a member of the national advisory board of the George Foster Peabody Awards and was a frequent juror for the Pulitzer Prizes.

He also served as a director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the American Press Institute.

During the summer of 1997, Woo and his journalist wife, Martha Shirk, were Knight International Press Fellows and monitored press freedom in Hong Kong as Chinese rule was restored.

Two years later, Woo began making annual trips to Asia to lecture on journalism and work with journalists, journalism teachers and students in China.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian American Journalists Assn. in 1990 and the Gold Medal Honor Award from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1991.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Thomas, Bennett and Peter.

Los Angeles Times Articles