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Theo Lippman Jr.

Theo Lippman Jr.
Theo 'Ted' Lippman Jr., a former Baltimore Sun editorial writer and author of several books, died Saturday morning of complications after a fall at his home in Fenwick Island, Del. He was 85. (Joseph F. Farace, Baltimore Sun)

Theo "Ted" Lippman Jr., a former Baltimore Sun editorial writer and author of several books, died Saturday morning of complications after a fall at his home in Fenwick Island, Del.

He was 85.

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"He wrote with a great sense of humor," said Joseph R.L. Sterne, editorial page editor during much of Lippman's tenure. "He was skeptical of all politicians. His column was a wonderful mixture of the day-to-day happenings plus a profound knowledge of American history."

Mr. Lippman was born in Brunswick, Ga., in 1929, and was the only child of Theo Lippman, an insurance salesman, and Louise Deaver Lippman. He attended Brunswick public schools, and later Emory University, where he received his bachelor's degree in history in 1952. He served as a quartermaster in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, working on the USS Missouri from 1952 to 1954.

In 1955, he married Madeline Mabry. They had two daughters; Susan in 1956 and, three years later, Laura.

He began his journalism career at the Cordele (Ga.) Dispatch, and later worked at newspapers in Gainesville, Ga., and Savannah. In 1956, Mr. Lippman started at the Atlanta Constitution, where he worked as an editorial page assistant, copy editor and reporter. It was there that he got his start in national politics, working as the paper's Washington correspondent in the early 1960s and covering many historic moments of the civil rights era, including the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. He also covered President John Kennedy's funeral.

In 1965, he moved to Baltimore and began work for The Sun, where he was an editorial writer and columnist. His "Notes and Comment" column appeared twice a week.

Mr. Lippman "knew Washington politics. He had a real flair for writing witty but insightful columns about government, politics and everyday life," said Barry Rascovar, a longtime deputy editorial page editor at The Sun. "His 'Notes and Comment' columns were just gems," Rascovar said of the items that appeared at the bottom of the editorial column. "Those pieces had to be very tightly written. Thoughts had to be compressed but carry a punch. Ted was a master," he said.

His daughter Laura, a former Sun reporter and a best-selling author, said the column was best known for its brevity, usually 400 words or less.

"It's a very unique style of writing. It's very pointed. Very genteel," said Ms. Lippman's husband, David Simon, also a former Baltimore Sun reporter. "If it's a barb in it, you don't feel it going in."

"This column can do three things. It can humanize politics. It can humanize the editorial page. I mean it can remind people that we are individuals with quirks and so forth. And it can tranquilize the day's headlines," Mr. Lippman said of his work in a 1982 interview.

Stephens Broening, a former Sun op-ed page editor, said on the days Mr. Lippman had to file, he would spend a couple of hours at The Sun library before heading over to the Pratt Library. Then, with a couple scraps of paper in his hand, he would say, "I'm going to write a powerful piece today," Broening said. "He was a very droll, droll guy, but very serious."

Julian L. "Jack" Lapides, former state senator from Baltimore, said he met Mr. Lippman at Corned Beef Row shortly after he moved from Georgia. "He was a delight. I can still hear his voice. A nice Georgia drawl." Lapides said he got Mr. Lippman an invitation to a local dinner party where Jimmy Carter was a guest shortly before he was elected president.

"He wrote a magnificent op-ed piece for The Sun," Mr. Lapides said.

In 1982, Mr. Lippman won the Commentary Award from the American Society of News Editors.

Mr. Lippman also wrote five books. In 1971, he co-authored "Muskie" with David Hansen, "Spiro Agnew's America" in 1972, "Senator Ted Kennedy: The Career Behind the Image" in 1976, and "The Squire of Warm Springs" in 1977. He edited "A Gang of Pecksniffs" in 1975. Mr. Lippman taught opinion writing at the Johns Hopkins University from 1987 to 1996. He continued to regularly contribute pieces to The Sun until 2010.

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Mr. Sterne recalled when Mr. Lippman brought Mr. Carter to the office to meet with the editors. But the staff was busy that afternoon preparing copy for the weekend papers. "We were all going crazy trying to turn out our three weekend pages. We didn't know much about Carter. We had no idea that a year later he would get the Democratic nomination."

"We wanted to terminate the interview so we could get back to work." he said, saying instead of asking Mr. Carter about foreign policy, they just asked a couple of questions about Mr. Carter's transportation policy back in Georgia. "I think Carter was very irritated by that," he said, adding that Mr. Carter did not return to The Sun on his next visit to Baltimore shortly before the election.

G. Jefferson Price III, The Sun's former associate managing editor, said, "He was just a marvelous gentleman. He was also one of the smartest people I ever knew in the news business. He was one of the sweetest guys around. In the newspaper business, there were not a lot of guys like that. Ted was just the consummate gentleman."

Mr. Lippman was known for a keen recollection of presidential history. Ms. Lippman recalled how her father would take her and her sister to the House of Welsh steak house, which had pictures of all the U.S. presidents. She recalled how he could name each president in order. Mr. Simon said he would also have known the vice presidents.

He was also a scholar of H.L. Mencken. "Everyone who studies H.L. Mencken today is indebted to Theo Lippman's pioneering work," said Terry Teachout, drama critic at The Wall Street Journal and author of "The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken." "He was on the case years before any of us came along."

He also loved a good martini, which to him meant heavy on the gin, with less vermouth, Mr. Price said.

A date for a memorial service in Baltimore will be determined.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Laura, Mr. Lippman is survived by his elder daughter, Susan Seegar, and a grandson and granddaughter.

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