A man of The Times
Raymond W. Apple, Jr. '57, a former chairman of The Daily Princetonian who spent more than 40 years traveling the world as a correspondent and editor at The New York Times, died yesterday in Washington. He was 71.
He succumbed to complications from thoracic cancer.
Apple's forceful personality and piercing intellect carried him from Akron, Ohio, to Princeton, to the apex of journalistic excellence at the nation's most prestigious paper. He wrote on war, politics, food, architecture and travel, elegantly conveying his often unique interpretations and vast knowledge to readers around the world.
Apple enjoyed the best in life, owning homes in Georgetown, rural Pennsylvania and the English countryside, and holding forth at dinner parties where he coordinated the food, wine and conversation.
Though he never won a Pulitzer Prize, "of all the journalists who didn't win Pulitzers, he was the most deserving one," former 'Prince' chairman Richard Kluger '56 said.
"He was the most versatile journalist in my generation, with an extraordinary range culturally," Kluger, who himself won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1998, said.
Apple left behind "legions of friends, colleagues, proteges and imitators, admiring competitors and grateful readers and his beloved [wife] Betsey," Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote in an email to the paper's staff. "He leaves, too, a hole in the heart of the paper he adored, and an empty place at countless tables."
A reporter is born
Sure that he wanted to be a newspaper reporter since before he arrived at Princeton, Apple used his undergraduate years as a vocational education, working 60-hour weeks at the 'Prince.' Twice forced to leave the University, Apple cared more about getting the story than going to class, studying for exams or graduating.
Apple was first suspended for poor academic performance as a freshman member of the Class of 1956. In numerous interviews later on in his life, Apple recalled this being the result not only of his attention to the paper but also his attraction to the women at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
After a year away from the University, he returned with the Class of 1957, doing just well enough in his courses to stay enrolled, while writing stories on such hard-hitting topics as the anti-Semitic nature of the eating clubs.
Lawrence DuPraz, a longtime employee of the 'Prince' and its resident historian, said he remembered Apple as "a happy go lucky guy." Though "he didn't study, he sure did like to write. He had a great amount of discipline."
Weeks after becoming chairman of the 'Prince' in February 1956, Apple left the University yet again, this time permanently. Even for the least-involved chairmen of that era, the position's responsibilities left little time for class and schoolwork. For the hard-charging Apple, there was even less.
At The Times, an unmatched force
Keller, The Times's executive editor, notified the paper's staff of Apple's death in an email sent at 10:29 a.m. Tuesday morning. He observed that Apple had never stopped working, even as cancer and chemotherapy came to dominate his life. Apple's most recent story, about Singapore's lively culinary culture, ran in the Travel section on Oct. 1.
"From his sickbed he hammered out his last words to readers," Keller wrote. "[He] negotiated details of the menu and music for his memorial service, followed the baseball playoffs and the latest congressional scandal with relish and cheered up the friends who came by the cheer him up. He was himself to the last." Before going to The Times, Apple held reporting jobs at The Wall Street Journal and The Newport News Daily Press in the late 1950s, before being hired in 1961 to work an overnight shift at NBC News in New York. Also in 1961 he earned a B.A. magna cum laude in history from Columbia's School of General Studies.
At NBC News he quickly progressed, becoming a correspondent for "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" and winning an Emmy Award in 1963.
But it was at The Times that Apple came of age, quickly developing from an ambitious young metro reporter into an indomitable force, a correspondent known for his ability to write with as much ease about presidential elections as he did about food and wine.
He started at the paper in 1963 and in his first year, accumulated 73 front-page stories, Todd Purdum '82 wrote in The Times's obituary yesterday. "He rose rapidly and never looked back."
Just as he had been at Princeton, Apple was a journalistic machine at The Times, a polymath able to cover almost anything with ease and tenacity.
Purdum quoted a citation for an in-house Times award that Apple won early in his career: "In the interests of efficiency, The New York Times recently equipped its main office with automatic elevators, a Centrex switchboard, a two-faced Universal Jump clock, a Goss press with magnetic amplifier drive, a jam-proof Jampool conveyor belt and a 185-pound, water-cooled, self-propelled, semiautomatic machine called R. W. Apple Jr."
In his 43 years at the paper, Apple covered 10 presidential elections and both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. He was bureau chief in Albany, Lagos, Nairobi, Saigon, Moscow, London and Washington.
To peers at the 'Prince,' a formidable competitor
John Milton '57, who had been editor of his high school newspaper, began work on the 'Prince' thinking he "was going to be a great journalist one day," he recalled in an interview yesterday.
"But then I met Johnny Apple and he made me question my aspiration. Clearly becoming a reporter was much more important than anything else to him ... he sacrificed everything other than his friendships to become a reporter."
In every story Apple worked on, "he invariably found a way to come through, to get what was needed" to make the story work, Milton said.
In April 1955, during their sophomore year, Albert Einstein died at a hospital in Princeton. A group of 'Prince' reporters, including Milton and Apple, were together when they heard the news. As everyone else's "eyes were popping out," Apple left for the hospital.
"He went there to do interviews before I'd even had a chance to notice he was leaving," Milton said. "He talked to everyone, he talked to the bereaved widow, and beat everybody on the story. He absolutely had no fear about interviewing her though her husband had just died. It was just stunning."
The next year Apple faced Robert Caro '57 in the election for 'Prince' chairman. The two had long battled for dominance as the star reporter of their class, Milton said.
Both were skilled and dedicated, but in the first round of voting the 'Prince' staff elected Apple by a very close margin, Richard Kluger '56, the previous chairman, said. "Each of them was a very high-powered young guy."
Caro became managing editor and has since won two Pulitzer Prizes for the nonfiction books "The Power Broker" and "Master of the Senate." He was unavailable to be interviewed last night because he was traveling in Paris.
Kluger and Apple began at Princeton in the same year, both beginning the candidacy period to join the 'Prince' reporting staff at the same time. From the beginning, Kluger said, Apple was "a potential competitor."
Just out of high school, Apple was already "a trained journalist, so professional," Kluger said. "I saw him as someone I just couldn't keep up with [in terms of] writing, reporting, energy."
Kluger said 'Prince' editors emphasized clear, simple copy and posted the front page of The New York Times as an example for struggling young writers. Once, when Apple tried something "especially experimental at the top of a story," an editor told Apple to look at The Times's short, informative ledes.
Apple, Kluger recalled, responded in frustration and confidence: " 'The great Gray Lady, that's where I'm going to work someday.' "
Because of Apple's one-year suspension, Kluger ended up his competitor's boss and got to see his "incredible reportorial skill" on the day Einstein died and, later in 1955, when the Atomic Energy Commission held a secret meeting on the stage of the McCarter Theater.
Eberhard Faber '57 became chairman when Apple was expelled from the University. Though the two were not quite friends, "we saw a lot of each other on the 'Prince,' " he said. "He was one of the most brilliant guys at writing a fast news story, even among some pretty darn good people who were there at that time."
To aspiring journalists, an avuncular figure
Besides his duties for The Times, Apple spent many years as chair of the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee for the mid-Atlantic region. Regional chairs are generally accomplished figures who are not themselves Rhodes Scholars, and Apple enjoyed meeting the young Americans who were judged by the Rhodes's metric to be the best and brightest.
Rhodes Scholar and Washington-native David Robinson '04 recalled meeting Apple in 2003 during his final round of Rhodes interviews, already familiar with the journalist's outsized persona and unquestionable skill. "I had read the New Yorker piece," he said, referring to "Newshound," a September 2003 profile by Calvin Trillin. "And once I met him, I realized it was really good — totally right — in painting this portrait of this larger-than-life person."
When Apple learned that Robinson was editor of the 'Prince' editorial page, he began to share his decades of journalism knowledge.
"Once he knew I wanted to be a journalist," Robinson said, recounting a visit he made to Apple's house in Georgetown while home from Oxford for a winter vacation, "he became this avuncular figure to me."
"He sort of took me, like a family member, under his wing," Robinson explained. "He talked me through these options in journalism and was really the best person to do that: nobody understands journalism, nobody understands Washington better than Johnny."
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.