Deborah Howell dies; husband headed UM system in 1980s

Saturday, January 2, 2010 | 11:45 a.m. CST; updated 11:06 a.m. CST, Sunday, January 3, 2010

*CORRECTION: C. Peter McGrath was University of Minnesota president until 1985. Following his time there, he became the University of Missouri System president. An earlier version of this article misidentified when he was at the University of Minnesota.

WASHINGTON — Former Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, a veteran editor who helped lead two news organizations to three Pulitzer Prizes, has died. She was 68.

Howell suffered fatal injuries when she was struck by a car while vacationing in New Zealand, stepson Nick Coleman said, speaking by phone from Minnesota.

The School of Journalism at MU awarded Howell an honor medal in 2009. Her husband, C. Peter McGrath, was university president during the 1980s.

Raised in Texas, Howell worked for newspapers there before moving to Minnesota to work as a reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Star. She later was top editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, leading it to two Pulitzers.

Her staff at Newhouse News Service also won a Pulitzer while she was there.

She joined The Post in 2005 as ombudsman, a job in which she advocated for the interests of readers, and held the position until 2008.

"My values simply are these: Journalism should be as accurate as human beings can make it and it should be enlightening, fair, honest and as transparent as possible," she wrote in her first column as ombudsman, in October 2005. "Mistakes should be acknowledged and quickly corrected. When you finish reading The Post, you should feel more informed than when you began. I truly believe a democracy can't operate without a free press. But I also can't live without 'Doonesbury' or 'Opus' on Sunday."

At the time of the accident, she was vacationing with her husband, who is also a former president* of the University of Minnesota. She was previously married to Coleman's father, former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Nicholas Coleman, until his death in 1981.

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