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The Baltimore Sun

Herbert L. "Herb" Thompson, Agnew press secretary, dies

Baltimore Sun reporter

Herbert L. "Herb" Thompson, former Associated Press Annapolis bureau chief who later served as press secretary to Spiro T. Agnew during his years as governor and later vice president, died May 30 of pneumonia at a retirement community in State College, Pa.

He was 89.

The son of a postmaster and an educator, Mr. Thompson was born and raised in Elrod, N.C. He was a graduate of Chadbourne High School and earned a bachelor's degree in 1943 in English and journalism from Wake Forest University.

Commissioned an ensign in the Navy, he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and participated in seven amphibious landings, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1946, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1947 from the University of Missouri.

While at Missouri, he met and fell in love with a fellow journalism student, the former Ann Turner, whom he married a month after graduation.

He was a reporter for a year at the Shreveport Journal in Louisiana before joining the Associated Press in 1948 in Huntington, W.Va.

His AP career as an editor and reporter was interrupted when he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.

In 1955, Mr. Thompson was assigned as Annapolis bureau chief, where he supervised for the next 12 years news coverage of the state legislature, regional general news, sports and the Naval Academy.

A 1966 article in The Evening Sun described "the 6-footer with the gray-blond crew cut and a slight drawl" as "the last of the Southern Gentlemen."

The bureau chief was known for his fairness and comprehensive reporting and editing. He also gained the respect of competing reporters and editors.

"He's a friend of the legislators too. They appreciate little thoughtfulnesses like calling them in the middle of the night, just to be sure that they have their side of an issue in the next morning's newspaper. 'Fair' is the favorite descriptive adjective," reported The Evening Sun.

While her husband worked for the AP, Mrs. Thompson was a stringer for The New York Times and a reporter for the Evening Capital in Annapolis.

Mr. Thompson was tapped by Mr. Agnew in 1967 to be his press secretary and principal staff assistant.

After Mr. Agnew was elected vice president in 1968, Mr. Thompson was asked to stay on.

He remained with Mr. Agnew and went to the Executive Office Building as a member of White House communication director Herbert G. Klein's staff, but his main job was serving as the vice president's press secretary and chief speech writer.

While Mr. Thompson worked for the vice president, his wife was Judy Agnew's press secretary from 1968 to 1973. Mrs. Thompson died in 1982.

"My father spoke about his years with Mr. Agnew with fond memories, and was gone from Washington during many of the troubled years of the Nixon-Agnew administration," said a daughter, Sheryl Thompson Lawrence of Nazareth, Pa.

"If he ever spoke of the problems it was just to note how disappointed he was, as he had thought so highly of Mr. Agnew, and was unaware of the dealings that would later come under scrutiny. He was caught completely off-guard," she said.

In an oral interview in 2006 with author Gerda Rosenbaum, Mr. Thompson said the "work in the governor's office, covering that side of the fence, was really one of the favorite times of my professional life."

Mr. Thompson said had no idea of the gathering storm and the depth of the vice president's troubles, which eventually led to his resignation in 1973.

"Oh, no. No inkling, no inkling. The big story that happened to the Nixon administration before Agnew's troubles was the Watergate stuff. But we had nothing to do what that and no knowledge of it, really, because we were traveling in the national 1972 campaign for re-election," he told Ms. Rosenbaum.

Mr. Thompson said as the Watergate scandal broke, revelations that the vice president had taken bribes from contractors as Baltimore County executive, governor of Maryland, and vice president began appearing in newspapers.

"So that story was beginning to surface when I decided to leave the administration. … I wanted to get out of this White House work routine because I was barely seeing my family," he said.

In 1972, Mr. Thompson left for a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he served as deputy director of the Tunis USAID mission from 1973 to 1975.

He returned to Washington in 1975, when he was named deputy director of public affairs at the Agency for International Development's headquarters.

Mr. Thompson, who had maintained a home in Annapolis, went overseas again in 1978, when he became director of information services for the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India.

He remained in that post until retiring in 1986, and then moved to Foxdale Village, a State College, Pa., retirement community.

Mr. Thompson volunteered his editorial skills for the Clear Water Conservancy and the Laurel Festival of the Arts in Jim Thorpe, Pa., where he and his wife, the former Gloria Brocato, whom he married in 1986, operated a bed and breakfast.

He was a member of the State College Unitarian Fellowship.

A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. June 17 at Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Thompson is survived by another daughter, Sally Thompson Stephens of Annapolis; two stepsons, Eric Rosenberg of Bronxville, N.Y., and Seth Rosenberg of Seattle; five grandchildren; a great-grandson; and two step-grandchildren.

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