In Memoriam: William Woo

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AAJA mourns the passing of William Woo, the first Asian American editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in the US. He was also one of the first Asian Americans to head an editorial page.

This article was posted on the AAJA.org website on April 12, 2006

The Asian American Journalists Association mourns the loss of William Woo, 69, who died Wednesday.

He was the first Asian American to be named editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States, said AAJA national president Esther Wu, columnist/reporter for The Dallas Morning News.

In 1986, he was named editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a Pulitzer family owned-and-operated newspaper that was founded in 1903 by Joseph Pulitzer.

Bill was the first non-Pulitzer to take the reins as editor. He was a true wordsmith who cared more about good journalism than the business of journalism. He inspired many to enter this profession -- including me, Wu said.

Woo worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years beginning in 1962, rising from reporter to foreign correspondent, Washington columnist, editorial writer, editorial page editor, and serving as the newspapers editor for his last decade there.

He was one of the first Asian Americans to head an editorial page. AAJA vice president of print Jeanne Mariani-Belding had the opportunity to work closely with him while she was at the San Jose Mercury News and later as a Knight Fellow.

Words cannot describe this loss. Bill has been a mentor, an inspiration and above all, a dear friend, said Mariani-Belding, who today is editorial and opinion editor at The Honolulu Advertiser. He has touched so many of our members across the country. And his work at Stanford with the next generation of journalists will have a lasting impression on our industry. He was such a wonderful human being, a wonderful soul.

Former AAJA national president Catalina Camia, Washington assignment editor for USA TODAY, said, "Bill Woo was a quiet and important trail blazer among Asian American journalists. He was a role model for everyone, and he encouraged us as individuals and as an organization to fight for the next generation of Asian American journalists."

After retiring from the Post-Dispatch in 1996, Woo was named the Lorry I. Lokey visiting professor of professional journalism and later interim director of the Stanford Graduate Journalism Program.

He was also a visiting professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong and has been a lecturer in ethics at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

A native of Shanghai, China, Woo attended public schools in Kansas City, where he began his newspaper career as a phone clerk for the Kansas City Star in 1955 before becoming a reporter. He graduated from the University of Kansas, where he received honors in English literature.

Woo was a member the Board of Visitors of the John F. Knight Fellowships at Stanford and was a member of the National Advisory Board of the George Foster Peabody Awards. He frequently served as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes, and was a finalist for Pulitzer Prizes in national reporting, foreign correspondence and commentary. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University during the 1966-1967 year and served as a director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the American Press Institute. From 1995 to 2001, he served as a commissioner of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

Woo was a speaker at AAJAs first Executive Leadership Program in 1995 and was the keynote speaker at AAJAs national convention in 1996. He received AAJAs Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He also received the Gold Medal Honor Award from the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism in 1991. He wrote many articles on journalism which appeared in such publications as the Nieman Reports, the Columbia Journalism Review and the American Studies Quarterly, published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Woo is survived by his wife, Martha Shirk, and their three sons, Thomas, Bennett and Peter.