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Number 1 Shimbun

Tributes to Richard Pyle



I met Pyle in the early ‘80s when he came to Tokyo to be Asia News Editor. At first we were compatriots more than friends. He’d eye me with that baleful stare, over a table at the main bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. Mephistopheles, I thought.

We circled each other like wary dogs for quite a while. I was at the small party when Richard took his last drink.

Our friendship followed and deepened. We talked Nam, where he’d spent five times as long as I did. We talked words and punctuation and style, all dear to us both. Soon Richard joined the AP pantheon of True Gentlemen of the East I was privileged to know in Tokyo: Roy Essoyan, Max Desfor, John Roderick, and Ed White.

In the ‘90s we repatriated, Richard to the East Coast, me to the West. We were kilometers from each other during the Persian Gulf War, Richard in Dhahran, me near the Iraq border in Saudi.

We stayed in Telex touch after that, then email, then phone.

We met in person again in March 2010 at the Overseas Press Club’s ‘Japan Hands’ event in midtown Manhattan.  Pyle helped plan it. Some 80 hacks and their spousal units showed up. Bill Holstein of the OPC asked me to talk about covering Japan in the ‘70s and ‘80s—‘what you can remember of it.’

With beaucoup inputted help I spoke about stories and newsies from those decades, including an almost annual attempt by Pyle to get elected president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan—probably the only thing he never achieved in our business. My line, ‘He was the Harold Stassen of Japan,’ got laughs, mainly from Richard.

I treasure a photo from that gig. It shows me rearing back, laughing, as Terry Anderson listens to a tale told by my WSJ successor in Tokyo, Urb Lehner, as Pyle watches us all, ready to correct a fact or improve a phrase.

In September of that year, as executive editor of the Merced Sun-Star, I was able to reprint Pyle’s extraordinary story about covering 9/11, first from Brooklyn, then from as close to Ground Zero as he could walk. We published several photos from his wife Brenda Smiley. They both were gratitude.

We emailed a few times a month, writing about everything from the correspondent who rode to Custer’s last stand to Richard’s obit of Hugh Mulligan to a note I’d sent to Ed White just before he died to Richard’s namesake Ernie.  -  Richard and I talked off and on after that. The last time was in January. I interviewed him for AARP Magazine for a piece called ‘Battlefield Buddies.’ It was about Richard’s friendship with photographer Larry Burrows, killed when his chopper was shot down over Laos. The story runs in the October/November issue.

Now I am sad that it will serve as one of his obits.

And that -17- at the top? Pyle taught me that. It means ‘All Hands.’  All hands will miss Richard Pyle.

Michael “Buck” Tharp – FCCJ President 1989-90



Pyle was smitten with Brenda. He loved it when I gave her the nickname Cuisinart -- "not your ordinary blender." But he was loath to give up his freedom. So she wore an engagement ring from another guy until he'd thought through what it would do to him if she married the other fellow.

A classic love story!

Bradley K. Martin - Longtime Asia correspondent and former FCCJ Officer



“For all the talent – and no one was better at superb news writing – and for all the guts – he was the first to step forward for any hellish assignment – and for all the charm – the stories, the laughs, the smiles, simpatico, conspiratorial – for all of that, Richard Pyle was perhaps most cherished by many of us, friends and colleagues, for being so proud of and dedicated to his calling as a journalist and to his great news organization, The Associated Press, and for making the rest of us so much more so to both,” Charles Hanley, a retired AP Special Correspondent and the author of the AP obituary for Richard, wrote to the Connecting newsletter distributed mainly among AP retirees and former AP news people.

These thoughts are shared affectionately by many of us who worked with him at the AP and elsewhere.

Last year, I visited New York from late August through early September on a book project about news agencies of the world. While in New York, I visited with Richard and Brenda at their Brooklyn apartment, and we had a nice dinner together at a nearby restaurant. Although he was having health problems and looked frail, his passion for journalism did not seem to have faded at all. We extensively talked about the current issues news media were facing.

We miss him. But his dogged dedication to the profession and infectious grin will live on with those who knew him.

Kazuo Abiko - Former AP general manager for Northeast Asia. FCCJ president in 2001-02



Like all of us, I was greatly saddened by the passing of Richard Pyle. He was a great friend, and if there is such a thing as a mentor in the AP, where newbies are usually just thrown in the deep end, he was mine. I met him in Tokyo, my first foreign assignment, when he became Asia News Editor in I think 1979.

Larger than life, most emphatic in expressing his disapproval when it was triggered (he once kicked a wastebasket clear across the newsroom, greatly startling our Japanese staff), he was equally generous with praise when earned. Richard was totally dedicated to the AP. 

He directed the coverage of the 1980 Kwangju insurrection in South Korea, and talked me out of resigning over a dispute with the Foreign Desk on attribution to another major story. He remained a friend and wise counselor for many years, long after I left the AP.

His love for the AP and his colleagues is, I think, clearly expressed in the many great obits he wrote for those who passed before him. He will be remembered as among the best the AP has produced.

Terry Anderson, former AP reporter and hostage in Lebanon 1985-91



Richard Pyle was a man of quick draw in both in his professional and his private life, and he acted with dexterity and fairness. And warmth. He was a journalist from head to toe who considered facts and simplicity as the most important traits of our trade. He was our member between 1979 and 1987.

I joined the club in 1981. Over the next few years I found myself sitting with Richard, Sam Jameson, Swadesh DeRoy, Roy Essoyan, KGB agents and many other guys at the middle one of the three correspondents tables – they were round back then as they are now -  for any journalist members to join other journos.  The table was always full and we often docked the other two tables to make room for people hungry to tell and hear stories.

Pyle always stole the show at the tables every night – well, in fact, almost every day from the lunch time to dinner time talking about the Hotel New Japan fire, earthquakes, the Iran-Iraq war and other global issues, over food and many drinks. At first I thought of him as a boozy foreign correspondent without much to do in his AP Tokyo bureau. How wrong I was: He was simply fast and efficient in pumping out stories and editing reporters' copy flooding in from all over Asia.

“Mr. Pyle loved to write and edit,” Kozo Mizoguchi, a former AP bureau reporter, told me. “He was incredibly fast at writing and editing. I believe he learned it from his Vietnam era experience.”

I, for one, had asked Richard to edit some of my copy. He was not only fast but had a mastery of dissecting and honing my not-so-clean copy for better reading using simple words and phrases. He never forgot the importance of readers' eyes.

Even though he sported a macho image for himself with his signature safari jacket and dark sunglasses, Richard exuded a charm about him that could not go unnoticed by lady friends.

At night around the middle round table, ladies would join us. One by one they'd be drawn closer to Richard from the far end of the table or even from other tables. He had many interesting stories to share with them.

In one of many such occasions, while Brenda Smiley was sitting at the table. I proposed a date to her a couple of days later, and she accepted it.  Elated, I stood by for her phone call in my office over the next days. It never came. Turned out that Richard had taken her out to Roppongi the very next night.

But instead of rivalry and animosity, I developed a liking for Richard and over years, our relationship developed into a strong friendship. I visited him and Brenda in New York many times over the years. Over his non-alcohol beer and real drinks for me and Brenda, we'd talk about a whole range of topics. We talked about New York and its city office. He was lukewarm about Michael Bloomberg as mayor and even more so about Bill de Blasio. But one topic he talked about with fond memories was his experience in Tokyo, particularly the Club. “It's the best press club in the world!” he would say.

By Toshio Aritake – Tokyo correspondent, The Bureau of National Affairs



Among the best of my times in Tokyo was sitting in the FCCJ bar with Richard Pyle, a carafe of white wine between us, soon to be replaced by another, simply shooting the breeze. We covered every waterfront under the sun, invariably starting and sometimes ending in Vietnam, which left such an indelible impression on him, as it had on so many others.

He was, above all, an old school journalist of the kind the AP used to churn out in droves, crusty, opinionated but a professional to the core. And he never lost the thrill of the hunt.

A quarter of a century after Tokyo, when Sully landed his crippled airliner on the Hudson River, it was Richard, in his late 70s, who hauled himself from his apartment in Brooklyn to be among the first on the scene to report on the dramatic rescue of all the flight’s passengers. It was a classic re-run of what he had done after 9/11 and before that, in the Vietnam War.

He had the memory of an elephant. About 10 years ago, the Financial Times asked me to write an obituary of the US spokesman who conducted what were known as the “five o’clock follies” press briefings in Saigon at the height of the war. There was little available information on him, until I called Richard. A raft of stories poured out, unobtainable elsewhere, and, just like that, I had my obit (I had the grace to attribute much of what I wrote to him).

But it was the carafes of white wine that linger most. Early in 1986, Richard decided to go teetotal, which could be seen as a personal decision, but it had wider consequences. Wine receipts at the bar dropped 50 per cent in the first month of his going dry. I knew this because I was President of the FCCJ at the time. It seemed to me the responsible thing for any president to do was try make up for the shortfall, even at the cost to my liver.

In fact I was only president partly because of Richard. The previous year it appeared the only two contenders for the position were two products of Detroit, Pyle and Mary Anne Maskery of NBC, both of whom I liked but who didn’t like each other very much. So I ran on a non-Detroit platform (not that I had anything against Motown per se) and won.

Mostly I remember Richard as a tough guy, but it was clear in Tokyo that the love of his life, the actress and writer Brenda Smiley, had smoothed some of the rougher edges. His eyes lit up when she walked into the club, with or without the carafe of white wine between us.

Jurek Martin (FCCJ president 1985-86)


Published in: October 2017

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