James B. MacNees, 81, telegrapher, reporter


James B. MacNees, a former railroad telegrapher who became a reporter in the Washington bureau of The Sun, died DTC Thursday of congestive heart failure at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. He was 81.

A telegrapher for Postal Telegraph Co., Mr. MacNees moved to Washington in 1940 when he took a similar job with Washington Terminal Co. Railroad. He joined the newspaper as a Teletype operator in 1943 and became a reporter in 1956.

"He was entirely a self-made man," said his daughter, Valerie Van Meter, editor of the Clarke Times Courier in Berryville, Va.

"One of the earliest memories of his career was working as a telegrapher at the 1948 political conventions in Philadelphia, where one of his duties was telegraphing H. L. Mencken's copy to Baltimore. He used to say, 'That was a good learning experience for anybody.' "

Ms. Van Meter said her father was attracted to journalism because it was something he could do sitting down. "He was attracted to any job that he could do sitting down," she said, laughing.

After his promotion, Mr. MacNees covered Capitol Hill, the White House and the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

"He was a very affable fellow and his ability with a typewriter was amazing. He also had a natural talent for writing a clear sentence," said Albert Sehlstedt Jr., a former Washington bureau colleague.

"He was a greatly moved by the publication in the early 1960s of Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring,' and he was the first guy I ever heard talk about pollution in those years," said his son, James M. MacNees of Maderia Beach, Fla.

Mr. MacNees was born and raised in Richland Center, Wis., and after graduating from high school spent the early 1930s traveling the state with carnivals. "He traveled with his Grandpa Art, another free spirit, and he delighted in telling us when we were children how to beat all of the carnival midway games," Ms. Van Meter said.

An adept pool player, Mr. MacNees often spent part of his day in the National Press Club hunched over the billiard table, where he claimed he got leads for many of his stories.

After retiring in 1973, Mr. MacNees moved to Mountain Falls, Va., where he purchased 60 acres on Great North Mountain and planted more than 500 Christmas trees. In 1986, he moved to Maderia Beach.

He was married in 1940 to Valerie Koops, who died in 1985.

Graveside services were held Saturday in Mountain Falls.

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by a brother, Gene Mankie of Oregon; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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