MONTPELIER, Vt. — Tom Wicker, the former New York Times political reporter and columnist whose career soared following his acclaimed coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died Friday (Nov. 25, 2011) at his home in Rochester, Vt. He was 85.
Mr. Wicker died after an apparent heart attack, his wife, Pamela, said.
Mr. Wicker grew up in poverty in Hamlet, N.C., and wanted to be a novelist but pursued journalism when his early books didn't catch fire.
He worked at weekly and daily newspapers in North Carolina before joining the Nashville Tennessean in 1959. A year later he was hired as a political correspondent in the New York Times' Washington bureau in 1960.
Three years later, he was the only New York Times reporter to be traveling with Kennedy when the president was shot in Dallas.
Gay Talese, author of the major history of the New York Times, wrote of Mr. Wicker's coverage: "It was a remarkable achievement in reporting and writing, in collecting facts out of confusion, in reconstructing the most deranged day in his life, the despair and bitterness and disbelief, and then getting on a telephone to New York and dictating the story in a voice that only rarely cracked with emotion."
One year later, Mr. Wicker was named Washington bureau chief for the paper, succeeding legend James Reston, who had hired Mr. Wicker and called him "one of the most able political reporters of his generation."
In 1966, Mr. Wicker began his "In the Nation" column, becoming, along with colleague Anthony Lewis, a longtime liberal voice on the Op-Ed page. Two years later he was named associate editor of the paper, a post he held until 1985.
He ended his column and retired to Vermont in 1991 but continued to write.
He published 20 books, ranging from novels about gritty, hard-scrabble life in the South to reflections on the presidents he knew.