Roscoe C. Born, veteran Washington correspondent, dies

Journalist Roscoe C. Born, who had a "keen mind and wit," dies.

Roscoe C. Born, a writer, former Washington correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and Washington editor of Barron's, died Sept. 30 of respiratory failure at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. He was 95.

"He had a wonderful record in journalism, and whenever I needed a certain word, I'd go to Roscoe. He was a word craftsman, which was very important to his trade," said the Rev. Charles Lindsay Longest, retired suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and a resident the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville, where Mr. Born was a resident.

"He also had compassion for the voiceless, the poor, the least-noticed in our society, and I found that to be very attractive as well," he said.

"I enjoyed Roscoe's keen mind and wit on a regular basis. He was a very perceptive man," said Dr. Alva "Buzz" Baker, who also lives at Fairhaven. "We spent most Sunday afternoons when the weather was nice playing croquet and then afterward enjoying drinks, popcorn and then dinner," Dr. Baker said.

Roscoe Conklin Born, the son of Roscoe C. Born Sr., a wholesale grocery salesman, and Lillian Gibby Born, a homemaker, was born and raised in Topeka, Kan.

After graduating in 1938 from Osage City High School, he enrolled at the University of Kansas, where he studied journalism and was editor of The Daily Kansan.

He left the university in 1941 when he became a reporter for The Daily Reporter in Independence, Kan., and a year later, joined the staff of The Topeka State Journal as a reporter, and rose to become city editor and columnist.

In Kansas, his reporting on the mistreatment of the mentally ill played a pivotal role in reforming the state's mental health system.

During World War II, Mr. Born served as a lieutenant in the Aleutian Islands and in Alaska.

In 1957, Mr. Born left The Topeka State Journal and joined the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal, where he was a correspondent until 1961.

In Washington, he primarily covered the labor movement but also reported on politics from time to time, and traveled with the 1960 presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

Mr. Born was a member of a team of Wall Street Journal reporters who spent five weeks after the 1960 Democratic primary investigating whether Kennedy money had been used to bribe local political machines, leading to the defeat of Hubert H. Humphrey, who was also running for the Democratic presidential nomination that year.

As recounted by former New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh in his 1997 book, "The Dark Side of Camelot," the reporters found persuasive anecdotal evidence of ballot-box corruption but no documented proof, and on the day Mr. Born was to begin writing the story, the Dow Jones editors decided not to proceed.

"The Journal's reporting team was far closer to the truth than its editors could imagine," Mr. Hersh wrote.

In 1961, when Dow Jones established The National Observer, Mr. Born was one of its founding editors. The national weekly newspaper began publishing in Washington in 1962, moving its editorial offices and plant to a new facility in 1963 in White Oak in Montgomery County.

In 1963, Mr. Born wrote the writer's guide and style guide for the Observer and served as associate editor and vice editor.

When the general-interest weekly proved commercially unsuccessful and the Observer ceased publication in 1977, Mr. Born established a Washington bureau for another Dow Jones publication, Barron's magazine, where he served as Washington editor until he retired in 1982.

"He hired me in 1972 as a reporter," said Patricia Fanning, a former Baltimore Sun editor who is now a senior media specialist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

"Roscoe Born had such a zest for life and such skills as a writer and editor that he could make others experience it, too. Beyond that, he could spot ability in young journalists and would demand, coax or inspire them to develop it," Ms. Fanning said.

"Since his death, my former Observer colleagues from across the country have weighed in — from a national sportswriter, to authors, to a woman who rose to be a top editor and now teaches interns — all describing how Roscoe advanced their careers. I was lucky enough to be one of them," she said.

"He relished what many of us perceive as the ordinary, favoring Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey, "Seinfeld" reruns, coffee ground fresh each day from a blend of fair-trade Ethiopian beans, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, fine pottery, a scarlet crape myrtle reaching full bloom, a flock of cedar waxwings gorging on berries," Ms. Fanning said.

"He told me in 2014 in an interview related to his books: 'What I tried to do was engage the reader's senses, such as the sense of sound and smell and sight. If you can activate that in the reader's mind, then you've brought the reader into the vivid details of what is happening. You count on his senses,'" Ms. Fanning recalled.

During the nation's bicentennial in the mid-1970s, Mr. Born served on the editorial board for a series of books on state histories commissioned by the American Association for State and Local History and aided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. Born, who lived in Brinklow in Montgomery County, became a writing consultant to The Detroit News in 1983. For three years, he analyzed the work of Detroit editors and writers, flying to Detroit frequently to discuss his findings.

These reports resulted in a book, "The Suspended Sentence: A Guide for Writers," which was published in 1986 by Scribner's and later by Iowa State University Press.

In 2011, Mr. Born published "In the Prime of Death," a mystery novel, as an e-book, which was subsequently published as a paperback.

This year, he collected his previously published essays in the form of a memoir.

In 2002, Mr. Born moved to Fairhaven, where he immersed himself in activities, some of which related to his years in the news business.

"He was the driving force behind Inkling, a literary publication at Fairhaven, and my wife worked with him as part of the editorial process," Dr. Baker said.

He was a longtime trustee of the William Allen White Foundation, which supports the journalism school at the University of Kansas and memorializes the life of the Kansas newspaper editor, author, politician and leader of the Progressive movement, who died in 1944.

Mr. Born was a longtime member of the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists and often wrote op-ed pieces for The Baltimore Sun.

His wife of 61 years, the former Dorothy Jean Anstaett, died in 2003.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Fairhaven, 7200 Third Ave., Sykesville.

He is survived by two sons, Roscoe C. Born III of New York and Flint Born of Boston; two daughters, Karen Born Andersen of Bakersville, N.C., and Lynne Born Myers of Oxford, Ohio; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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