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John Woestendiek Jr., former Baltimore Sun features reporter, dies

Sun reporter John Woestendiek
Sun reporter John Woestendiek (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)

John Woestendiek Jr., a former Baltimore Sun features reporter and dog lover, died June 24 from complications of a stroke at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was 66.

William John Woestendiek Jr., who never used his first name, the son of William J. Woestendiek, a newspaper reporter and editor, and his former wife, Jo Woestendiek, who was also a newspaper editor and reporter, was born in Winston-Salem. Because of his parents’ newspaper careers, he was raised in Huntington, New York, Houston and Raleigh, North Carolina.

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He was a 1971 graduate of Sanderson High School in Raleigh and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Mr. Woestendiek began his newspaper career at The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and then joined the staff of the Lexington (Kentucky) Leader, where he worked until 1977, when he was hired as an investigative reporter and later became a columnist for The Inquirer in Philadelphia.

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In 1987, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on Terence McCracken, who had been unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, which resulted in a new trial and finally freedom.

In an email to The Inquirer for Mr. Woestendiek’s obituary, Daniel Rubin, senior editor for investigations, wrote that his reporting was the “most admirable piece of reporting I’d ever read. There was nothing showy about John — the opposite, really. He was rumbled, soft-spoken, self-effacing.”

When he was named Metro columnist in 1997 at the paper, he wrote a column about how columns were handed out which speaks to today’s quest for newsroom diversity. He said if you were white, male, and middle-aged then you were columnist material.

“Yes, we are a distinctive lot, we Inquirer columnists,” Mr. Woestendiek wrote. “Wrestling with our middle age, grappling with our manhood, coping with our whiteness, and fighting the good fight, day after day, with ear hair.”

Mr. Woestendiek worked at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer before coming in 2001 to The Sun, where he was known for his whimsical features and love of animal stories.

“Had all the animals in America gotten together to vote on their spokeshuman, they might have given the paws-up to somebody like Wayne Pacelle,” wrote Mr. Woestendiek of the man who was the chief executive officer of the Human Society of the United States.

After leaving The Sun in 2008, Mr. Woestendiek wrote daily blog posts about dogs at Ohmidog for the last 12 years. In 2010, his first book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” was published, followed by “Travels With Ace,” which chronicled a yearlong cross-country journey with his mixed-breed dog, gaining him an interview on “Nightline.”

“When the world is a better place for dogs, it is a better place for people,” he wrote.

Plans for services are incomplete because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is survived by a brother, Ted Woestendiek of Winston-Salem; a sister, Kathryn Woestendiek Scepanski of DeForest, Wisconsin; and a nephew. His son, Joseph Yoon Tae Woestendiek, was killed in a 2018 auto accident. Marriages to Jennifer Mitchell and Erika Hobbs ended in divorce.

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