Lou Panos, a heralded journalist and author who covered state and national politics during a career that spanned 67 years, died of complications from heart disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital early Sunday. He was 87.
His daughter, Melanie Panos-Ortel, said a lingering heart condition had left her father in a weakened state, and the family had recently transferred him to a palliative-care unit at Hopkins.
"His heart has just been tired for some time. He passed away in his sleep," she said Sunday.
From 1947 to 1967, Mr. Panos churned out articles, columns and editorials for the Associated Press. He did much the same during a 15-year stint with the Baltimore Evening Sun.
The longtime Timonium resident was also chief political reporter for Patuxent Publishing — publishers of the Towson Times, the Columbia Flier and other community papers that are now part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group — between 1988 and his retirement in 2007. For years, he also appeared on television and radio as a political commentator.
He covered President John F. Kennedy and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; penned a colorful column in the Sun, "Inside Baltimore," that offered everything from political commentary to man-on-the-street interviews, and covered more than 40 sessions of the Maryland General Assembly.
"[After his retirement], he always used to say there wasn't one thing on his journalistic bucket list he hadn't checked: the White House, the justice department, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the U.S. tax court, numerous national presidential conventions and more," Mrs. Panos-Ortel said.
Still, friends and colleagues say Mr. Panos was down-to-earth and friendly, a man who saw himself as a newspaperman, not a celebrity.
"He called himself a 'patch-in-the-pants newsman,' and he was," said longtime Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, who first met Mr. Panos in the 1970s "He was always a reporter who kept his many political contacts after becoming a columnist and editorial writer. ... He was a warm, affable man with a great sense of humor, [and] he always had a positive, encouraging word."
The legend started out humbly. His father, George E. Panos, owned a restaurant stall in Lexington Market for more than 30 years and put Lou to work washing dishes as a boy.
When Mr. Panos was a middle school student — he attended Edgar Allan Poe Junior High School at Fayette and Green streets, across from Poe's tomb — a teacher encouraged him to join the school newspaper.
Later, he was named editor of the Collegian, the student newspaper of Baltimore City College, and in his spare time worked as a copy boy at The Sun. He graduated from the school, now Baltimore City College High School, in 1943.
Panos headed to the University of Iowa to study journalism, but World War II intervened. A sergeant, he worked as an Army cryptographic technician in China and as a truck driver on the Burma Road, once driving 900 miles across China, Burma and India during monsoon season.
After the war, he returned to Iowa City for school, but during his junior year, in 1947, he applied for work at the AP and was hired full-time. He worked for the service for the next two decades, mainly out of the nation's capital, where for a time he covered the Department of Justice from a press room across the hall from Robert Kennedy's office.
"In the morning, Bobby would stop in for his keys, and as he was unlocking the door, he would always call across the hall, 'Good mohning, Lou, how ah yew?'" Mr. Panos recalled in a Towson Times article last year, working up his best Boston Brahmin accent.
He began his stint with The Evening Sun in 1966 and worked there until 1981, when he accepted a job as press secretary for Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes.
"He was a good guy, and a good friend, and a very good reporter," Gov. Hughes said on Sunday from his home on the Eastern Shore.
Legislators nicknamed Mr. Panos the "Grey Ghost," Gov. Hughes said, because "he moved around very quietly and always got the story. It was an affectionate term. I always found him to be a solid guy, a very honest, truthful guy. He was just a good man."
Mr. Panos stayed as press secretary for seven years, then spent one more as media-relations director for the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center before returning to journalism with the Patuxent newspapers.
During that period, he co-wrote a book, "Edward Teller: Giant of the Golden Age of Physics." Throughout his career, he stuck to what he saw as the newspaperman's ABC's: keeping things succinct and making sure his language was understandable.