Journalist Thomas Wark, 82

August 19, 2017

Editor’s note: I met Tom and Lois in 2003 when I started Grassroots Press shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. By email, I had recruited Tom to write some op ed pieces, after I saw his powerful writing in the Sun-News. (He and Lois had recently retired to Las Cruces.) Not only was he eager to write articles (as Lois was to take photos), but the Warks helped Grassroots Press get off the ground with a couple of very generous contributions. Over the years, we became close friends. His blog, A Bordello Pianist, was a treasure trove of rants and musings on life, politics and the wild and beautiful places of the Southwest. He inspired several songs that I wrote and still perform. Amigo, the Revolutionary Council will miss you! SK)


Thomas Edison Wark, a retired journalist who held senior editing posts at the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, died Friday, Aug. 18, at Mesilla Valley Hospice in Las Cruces, N.M. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He was 82.

In revealing his terminal diagnosis to friends, Wark wrote, “It’s been a good ride. No regrets. Grateful for so many good friends.” One of them, Boyce Rensberger, who worked with Wark at the Free Press in the 1960s and at The Times in the 1970s, called him “one of the finest editors of the golden age of American journalism.” Another former colleague, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner, said, “I owe much of my career to Tom’s spotting me among the many NYT stringers in 1971-73 and getting me to the Detroit Free Press. Love the guy.”

Wark was called “the father of Action Line” by Derick Daniels, former executive editor of the Free Press, for his role in creating and directing the public service column that became a staple of U.S. newspapers in the 1960s and ‘70s. (One of the column’s first researchers, and later its writer, was his wife-to-be, Lois Sutherland.) Within three months of Action Line’s introduction, the Free Press had overtaken and surpassed the rival Detroit News in circulation. Editors from around the world came to Detroit to observe the Free Press Action Line before launching their own versions of the column.

Wark also was part of the team of editors who directed Free Press coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots, for which the staff was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

At the New York Times he was successively a backfield editor on the National Desk, in the Washington Bureau and a news editor in the bullpen in New York, where a group of senior editors oversaw the paper’s content, display and standards. In Philadelphia, he was associate managing editor for features, where he directed a number of prize-winning projects.

Born in Detroit, Wark grew up in Iowa and studied journalism at the state university in Iowa City. He began his newspaper career as a sportswriter at the Clinton (Iowa) Herald, where he was serving as managing editor when Derick Daniels recruited him to join the Free Press staff in 1963.

In retirement, Wark delighted in playing what he called geezer-pro doubles, teaming up with the tennis pro at Picacho Hills Country Club in Las Cruces to challenge all geezer-pro comers. He and his wife were active in many environmental causes, including lobbying for the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico and Bears Ears in Utah. In the final months before his death Wark completed a memoir of his adventuresome father, Homer: My Father’s Odyssey, published in May as a paperback book through

In an Afterward to the book, he wrote: “Homer wasn’t entirely wrong, that day with the portable typewriter in the Wiltgen flat on North Claremont Avenue in Chicago. I never made a helluva lot of money. But I would not change a thing. It never was about money.”

Thomas Wark is survived by his wife, Lois, a journalist who edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and by seven children: his sons, John, of Pilot Hill, Calif.; David, of Hewlett, New York; Mark, of Largo, Florida, and Steven, of Reading, Pa.; and daughters Catherine Wark, of Queens, New York; Laura Wark Liu, of Juneau, Alaska, and Patricia Wark DePetris, of Wilmington, Del. He is also survived by many beloved grandchildren, who loved to visit New Mexico and Wark Base Camp West.

A memorial service is planned for later in the year during which his ashes will be released at a favorite mountain pass. Donations in his memory would be welcome to Mesilla Valley Hospice, 299 Montana Avenue, Las Cruces, N.M. 88005; the Southwest Environmental Center, 275 Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, N.M. 88001, or to the charity of your choice.





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