ICWA member Richard Dudman, a legendary reporter who covered some of the biggest stories of his day, died on August 3 at the age of 99. During a career that spanned more than three quarters of a century—much of it with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—Dick witnessed wars, revolutions and many other seminal events, including Fidel Castro’s toppling of Cuba’s Batista regime and, after missing a flight home from Dallas because he overslept, the shooting of John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. His work has been extolled in expansive obituaries in The New York Times and The Washington Post. He was also a regular contributor to ICWA who briefly served as a trustee of the Institute.
As the Post-Dispatch’s Washington bureau chief in 1970, he was captured with two other American reporters by Vietcong fighters in a Cambodian jungle and imprisoned for six weeks.
“If we get out of here alive,” he told his colleagues at the time, “we’re going to have one hell of a good story.” His words could have applied to many of the stories he covered. He later survived an assassination attempt after meeting the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.
Dick was connected to the Institute through longtime Executive Director Peter Martin, who met Dudman when he joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1951. “He loved newspapering,” Peter says. “He wasn’t just what you’d call a journalist, he was a newspaper man. If anything exciting was happening in town, he’d want to be there.”
After he retired from the Post-Dispatch and moved to Maine, Dick served as an editor for Peter’s South-North News Service for eight years. The highlight was leading an effort to free The Wall Street Journal’s Middle East bureau chief Gerald Seib from prison in Iran, where he was accused of espionage. The South-North News Service, the only Western agency to have a correspondent in Tehran, broke the story, helping lead to Seib’s release two days later—partly by reporting that he was Catholic, not Jewish as the Iranians believed—and generating a large amount of publicity for the news service.
“Dudman reveled in that kind of stuff,” Peter says. “He was like a fire dog listening to the fire bell. He would leap to attention and do anything for a good story.”
When Peter met Seib in Washington later, however, The Wall Street Journal correspondent exploded at him. “You SOBs,” he railed, “you exploited me!”
Born in Centerville, Iowa in 1918, Dick attended Stanford University and served in the merchant marine before becoming a naval officer during World War II. One of the first US reporters to later question the government’s account of the Vietnam War, he obtained copies of the secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, publishing portions in the Post-Dispatch after a court order temporarily blocked The New York Times and The Washington Post.
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Helen Sloane Dudman, two daughters and four grandchildren.