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Activist Hugh "Bud' Wylie dies

As a journalist for 39 years and a civic activist after retiring to Pasco County, Hugh "Bud" Wylie took on the weighty issues of the day and compelled others to do the same. He was driven, passionate, serious.

And funny. Mr. Wylie, who died Thursday (Jan. 6, 2005) at age 90, had a wit that matched his sense of duty, friends and family said.

"He always had a wisecrack," said Ben Wilcox, executive director for Common Cause Florida, the good government advocacy group with which Mr. Wylie was long associated.

"He had a strong interest in making government accountable to the average person rather than special interests," Wilcox said Monday, calling Wylie an inspiration for his own work. "He got it. He understood what's really the problem with government today."

Mr. Wylie, who was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago, lived in west Pasco for most of the past three decades before moving with his wife, Dorothy, to a retirement home in Clearwater last year.

He was a tireless advocate, starting a local chapter of Common Cause in the mid 1970s with his wife and hosting the National Issues Forum, which sought to engage citizens in government. He wrote and edited newsletters for Common Cause and other organizations, including AARP.

A frequent letter writer to the St. Petersburg Times, Mr. Wylie urged readers to support a school tax and blasted corporate tax breaks. He expressed alarm at a state government that made decisions in secret, and he praised good deeds, including a firefighter who delivered a baby in the back seat of a car on U.S. 19. Even as cancer made life difficult, he continued to write. His last letter was published in March 2004.

"He had a strong feeling of right and wrong," his wife of 65 years said. "He felt it was up to him to help those who couldn't speak out as well.

"He never in his lifetime was unkind," Dorothy Wylie continued. "He helped make the world a better place. He made his life count, I think."

His goal of becoming a journalist began in junior high school in Rockford, Ill., where he worked for the local paper. He and his wife met as students at the Missouri School of Journalism. Mr. Wylie wrote as a freelancer for the Associated Press in college and later joined full time. He remained with the AP for 39 years, moving to Kansas City and then New York.

His wife said he was involved in the decision to distribute to news organizations in 1972 the eventual Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack.

Mr. Wylie's newspaper career was interrupted by World War II, when he enlisted in the Navy. He was aboard the USS Sangamon when it was attacked by a kamikaze. Three days later, the Germans surrendered, but there was no celebration aboard the ship, "just the warm glow that comes with knowing you're homebound and that fear in your stomach has faded," Wylie wrote in a 1995 essay in the Times.

"If I learned anything from war, it was that virtually all wars are temporary expedients," he wrote. "History verifies this. Wars are civilization's greatest corrosion. The same problems are recycled, sometimes a year later, a decade later, a century later."

A memorial service for Mr. Wylie will be held 2 p.m. March 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater.

In addition to his wife, Dorothy, survivors include a daughter, Kay Wylie Jacob of New York City; a son, Hugh J. IV of Toronto; a brother, Kenneth of Rockford, Ill.; and two grandchildren.