Missouri Honor Medalist Lewine dies at age 86

Sunday, January 20, 2008 | 6:26 p.m. CST; updated 10:53 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Frances Lewine received the Missouri School of Journalism's Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism in October 2007.

WASHINGTON — Frances Lewine, a White House correspondent for The Associated Press during the administrations of six presidents, from Eisenhower to Carter, has died of a probable stroke. She was 86.

Lewine, who died Saturday, joined the Washington bureau of the AP in 1956 to cover general assignments, including White House social events and other activities of the first family. But despite her sometimes glamorous assignments, she often expressed frustration that she was relegated to social and family stories and sidebars while male colleagues covered the president.

Lewine’s coverage of first families was deeply appreciated, however, by Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson.

“Fran was a part of my daily life from the time I moved into the White House until my father moved out. She was just part of my extended family,” Johnson said. “She was there for all the big moments in my personal life from high school graduation, to my first day of university, to my marriage, through the ‘baby watch’ for my first born.”

Johnson said that “when my son Lyndon was born, Fran joked about being one of his ‘godmothers.’”

“Fran was a professional journalist of the highest caliber who didn’t compromise the quality or accuracy of her story, but also didn’t compromise common decency,” Johnson said. “I loved her. I’ll miss her.”

Lewine became a leader among women journalists in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, protesting discrimination against women in jobs and assignments. She was president of The Women’s National Press Club at a time when some major journalistic organizations excluded women or limited their participation. The efforts of Lewine and other reporters eventually led to such groups as the National Press Club and the Gridiron Club opening their memberships to women.

“Fran Lewine was a pioneer for women in journalism and she stood up to the Washington ‘media’ establishment and helped open doors that had been open only to men,” said Edith Lederer, chief AP correspondent at the United Nations. “She was passionate about freedom of the press, concerned about maintaining the highest journalistic standards in this era of new media — and a wonderful friend.”

Lewine left the AP in 1977 to join the Carter administration and became deputy director of public affairs for the Transportation Department. When President Carter left office in 1981, she moved to the fledgling Cable News Network as an assignment editor and field producer.

“Fran was one of my closest friends, a mentor, colleague, sister and a role model for what a great woman could accomplish in journalism,” AP legal writer Linda Deutsch said. “She was truly a legend but so self-effacing you would never know how much of this country’s history she had covered.”

Lewine was born Jan. 20, 1921, in New York City and grew up in Far Rockaway, Long Island, in an extended family household that included her first cousin Richard Feynman, who later won the Nobel Prize in physics. Upon graduation from Hunter College, where she edited the college newspaper, she worked as a reporter for the Plainfield, N.J., Courier-News and the Newark, N.J., bureau of The AP before moving to the AP’s Washington bureau.

She was also a member of Executive Women in Government and the Society of Professional Journalists. She was elected to the Washington Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame and to the Hunter College Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism last October.

Deutsch said Lewine had undergone surgery two weeks ago to correct a blocked carotid artery. She died at home of a probable stroke, according to a coroner’s preliminary ruling, and was found by friends.

She had planned to celebrate her 87th birthday on Sunday at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, where friends had arranged to have a race named in her honor.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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