Anthony Lewis, the prolific New York Times journalist, author and two-time winner of the venerated Pulitzer Prize, died early this morning at the age of 85.
The prominent liberal intellectual who championed causes such as free speech, human rights and constitutional law will be remembered for his indent in the world of law and journalism. A celebrity in his field, Lewis adopted a very particular voice as he moved away from the typical sterile news agency “objectivity” and made his work passionate, opinionated yet authoritative. Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Died at Home of Complications of Renal and Heart Failure
Lewis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010 and died of complications linked to the disease. His wife, Margaret Marshall, retired after his diagnosis “so that Tony and I may enjoy our final seasons together,” she said.
2. He Won the Pulitzer Prize Twice
An expert on constitutional law, Lewis won the Pulitzer for national reporting for the Washington Daily News in 1955 when he was only 28 years old. The series of articles he wrote were considered responsible for clearing a civilian employee of the U.S Navy from McCarthy-era allegations that he was a security risk. He won again for national reporting for the New York Times in 1963 for his new approach to coverage of the Supreme Court. With his deep knowledge of the legal system, he was able to make things clear and easy to understand.
3. He Had Very Strong Opinions
Lewis saw himself as a defender of decency, respect for law and reason against a tide of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism. His columns railed against the Vietnam War, Watergate, apartheid in South Africa and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. President Clinton referred to the journalist as a “staunch defender of freedom of speech, individual rights, and the rule of law” and a “clear and courageous voice for democracy and justice.” Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.
4. He Made Difficult Issues Easy to Understand
Lewis’s thorough knowledge of the court’s work allowed him to write authoritatively and accessibly about difficult points. He wanted everyone to understand the inner workings of the law system and incite change by bringing truth the the spotlight. He inspired generations of writers (and lawyers and judges, for that matter) to try to better explain and translate legal jargon into phrases and concepts that laypeople could more easily understand.Former executive of the New York Times said in an interview with the paper:
“He’s as clear a writer as I think I know…There’s a kind of lucidity and directness to his prose. You learned an awful lot of law just from reading Tony Lewis’s accounts of opinions.”
5. One of His Books Became a TV Movie
Lewis’ book Gideon’s Trumpet became a legal classic, as it told the story of Clarence Earl Gideon, whose case resulted in the creation of the public defender systems across the nation. In Gideon versus Wainwright, the high court ruled that criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer even if they cannot afford one. In his book Lewis wrote that the case “shows that even the poorest and least powerful of men – a convict with not even a friend to visit him in prison – can take his cause to the highest court in the land and bring about a fundamental change in the law.” The best-selling book was later made into a television movie starring Henry Fonda.
Other books he penned are: Portrait of a Decade, Make No Law, The Supreme Court and How It Works and Freedom for the Thought We Hate.
6. He Was a Harvard Graduate
Lewis was a managing editor of The Harvard Crimson and an Undergraduate columnist before going to work for the Sunday department of the Times. In 1952, he became a general assignment reporter for The Washington Daily News, and from 1956 to 1957 was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, studying law. He lectured at Harvard Law School from 1974 to 1989 and taught at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism for more than 30 years.
7. He Married an Important Woman
Lewis leaves his wife, Margaret H. Marshall, the twenty-fourth chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the first female to hold that position). He also leaves behind three children by a first marriage as well as seven grandchildren. The funeral will be private, but the Boston Globe reports that a memorial service is expected to be held later.
8. He Had a Well-Known New York Times Column
His column, called “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home” depending on where he was writing from, appeared on the Op-Ed page of The Times from 1969 to 2001. According to the New York Times, his voice was liberal, learned, conversational and direct.
9. He was Jewish
Lewis grew up in a kosher home in New York City and received private religious lessons from a student affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary. His family belonged to the Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox shul on the Upper West Side. As an an adult, he did not consider himself religious.
Background aside, Lewis wasn’t shy about criticizing Israeli policies that he believed undermined the peace process. Lewis still considered the founding of the Jewish state as a “landmark” event in his life.
Lewis taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism since the mid-’70s. When he announced his Columbia retirement several years ago, he told said, “I love students and I think teaching is the most wonderful profession, even more than journalism. Your students become your future.”