Paul Rhodes Mattix III, night news editor of The Sun whose career in newspapers spanned nearly three decades, died Monday from complications of lymphoma at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Wyman Park resident was 53.
Mr. Mattix was born and raised in Bethesda and graduated in 1969 from Walter Johnson High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Maryland in 1973. He returned to College Park to earn a second bachelor's degree, this one in journalism, in 1976.
In 1977, he began his career in layout and copy editing at the Charleston Evening Post in Charleston, S.C. He took a similar position the next year at The Capital in Annapolis.
Mr. Mattix worked briefly at The News American in 1981 as night sports editor before joining The Sun that year. He held positions as a news-page designer and copy editor and as an editor on the city desk. In 1992, he was promoted to chief of the features copy desk, and a year later he became a news copy editor.
Mr. Mattix was named a deputy chief of the news copy desk in 1996 and night news editor two years later.
"In his role as night editor, Paul was responsible for how the paper came together through the evening as deadline neared. He made sure stories were fair and complete, that headlines were sharp, that photos were appropriate," said Sandra A. Banisky, The Sun's deputy managing editor for news.
"Reporters, editors, headline writers, photographers, designers all came to Paul for guidance. He was one of the last editors to sign off on the paper before it went to press. It is an enormous responsibility that he took very seriously," she said.
"If he found a problem with a story, he'd bring it to your attention in the smoothest, warmest way, and then he'd help you fix it - no matter how late it was or how closely deadline loomed," she said. "He held us to the highest standards. He demanded excellence. And then he would say something sly and goofy and make us laugh."
Ms. Banisky added: "He was the combination of brilliance and integrity and fun that newspaper people love."
Paul M. Moore, The Sun's public editor and a former deputy managing editor, worked closely with Mr. Mattix for seven years.
"He was a truly fine editor and was someone who worked behind the scenes to make the newspaper better. He understood nuance, was a connoisseur of nuance, and the best headline writer at the paper," Mr. Moore said. "And he had a skeptical mind, which is absolutely essential for a great editor. He was demanding but fair and sensitive when dealing with colleagues."
"But titles are not what matters," wrote John E. McIntyre, assistant managing editor for the newspaper's copy desk, in a message to newsroom colleagues. "Paul could shape a story to sharpen its focus and tighten its construction as easily as he could smooth out the shape of a sentence."
He added: "His taste for what worked and what did not work never failed him. He would look at a headline, and the suggestion that followed his deferential 'Um, ahhh, do you think that ... ' always constituted an improvement."
"He was the best kind of editor, and his colleagues, both men and women, respected him. He could take a complex story and get its meaning across to readers with a bright and witty headline," said Mark B. Fleming, a longtime friend and co-worker. "And he had such a good bedside manner that he could have been a doctor. He could always talk someone down from the brink."
Mr. Mattix's quick wit was underscored by an infectious laugh. He was gifted with an easygoing demeanor and an unshakable calm that never seemed to be affected by deadline pressure, no matter what big story was breaking.
"He always managed to ease your discomfort or worries with his self-deprecating humor," Mr. Fleming said.
Mr. Mattix kept a relatively clean desk, a rarity in newsrooms, that he decorated with old zinc-plate photos cast off from The Sun's library, several painted coconuts that had been addressed and mailed to someone else, colorful postcards from exotic climes, and fabric balls that he called "Britney's Spheres."
He wrapped his computer with a strip of black and yellow plastic tape that read "CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS." In honor of old-time reporters who kept a bottle of bourbon or scotch in their desks, he stowed away a mayonnaise jar filled with moonshine.
When news of Mr. Mattix's death reached the newsroom late Monday, colleagues retrieved the jar, took a sip and toasted his memory.
Mr. Mattix was an accomplished guitarist, and he enjoyed listening to jazz and collecting vintage musical instruments and equipment.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Stony Run Friends Meeting House, 5116 N. Charles St.
Mr. Mattix was married for 23 years to the former Catherine Durrett. They separated in 2000.
He is survived by a son, Zachary P. Mattix, 20, of Charleston, S.C.; a daughter, Hannah C. Mattix, 17, a senior at Roland Park Country School; and his companion, Mary J. Corey of Baltimore, the newspaper's assistant managing editor for features.