THOMAS GREY WICKER ’ 48 1926–2011
Journalist Rose to Fame Covering JFK’s Assassination
Tom Wicker ’ 48, a journalist unafraid of controversy who covered politics for 30
years for The New York Times, died Nov. 25,
2011, at his home near Rochester,Vt. He was
85. Wicker had been an associate editor and
columnist for The Times until he retired in 1991.
Wicker gained national attention when he
covered the assassination of President John F.
Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. The only Times
reporter riding in the motorcade in Dallas, he
called in his stories from phone booths. He
didn’t have a notebook, so he scribbled notes
on White House itinerary sheets.
His reporting of the assassination made his
reputation. He became Washington bureau chief
for The Times in 1964. When he was named a
columnist two years later, he could voice his
liberal opinions on politics and the changing
landscape of the country. For example, he praised
Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress for passing
the Civil Rights Act but criticized the president
for America’s increasing military involvement
in Southeast Asia.
He grabbed headlines in the Attica, N. Y.,
prison riots of 1971, when prisoners requested
Wicker as one of three observers, along with
lawyer William M. Kunstler and Black Panther
GEORGE TAMES/ THE NEW YORK TIMES
Party leader Bobby Seale.
The three became negotiators, but the riot failed.
It became the subject of
Wicker’s book A Time to
Die. When ABC filmed a
television drama about
the Attica uprising,
Wicker was played by
actor George Grizzard
’ 49. The men had been
friends in college.
Wicker enrolled at
Tom Wicker was a prolific writer, turning out columns and novels and other pieces during his career, which included covering the White House in the 1960s. He appeared on the cover of the fall 1988 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review with Chancellor Paul Hardin when he wrote a profile of Hardin for the magazine.
UNC from Hamlet, a
small town in the south-
ern part of the state. His father was a railway
conductor. He came to campus on the military
Wicker served in the Navy
Reserve during the Korean War. In
1957, he spent a year at Harvard
University as a Nieman Fellow,
worked a short stint as associate
editor of The Nashville Tennessean,
then was hired for the Washington
bureau of The New York Times in
1960. He was made Washington
V- 12 program and was then placed in the reg-
ular Navy in World War II. In the fall of 1946,
he returned to UNC to finish his degree.
His first job after college was as executive
director of the Southern Pines Chamber of
Commerce. After that, he worked at small
N.C. papers, then spent much of the ’50s at
the Winston-Salem Journal, eventually becoming
its Washington correspondent. In his first year
at the Journal, he published his first book, Get
When conservative columnist Arthur Krock
retired, Wicker was given a political column, “In
the Nation,” which he wrote for 25 years. He
brought a liberal, often surprising viewpoint to
his syndicated column. He is quoted as saying
that the move from detached observer to opinion holder was a huge step.
Read an essay Wicker wrote for the
Out of Town, set in North Carolina. He wrote
under the pen name Paul Connelly.
Wicker didn’t forget Carolina, and it didn’t
forget him. He was on campus several times and
received the Distinguished Alumnus Award,
was among the first five named to the
Journalism Hall of Fame at the School of
September/October 1995 Review about what
his life was like at Carolina in a Navy officer-training program during World War II:
Journalism and Mass Communication, was the
first Distinguished Visiting Journalist in residence
in that school and was initiated into the honorary Order of the Golden Fleece. He so
admired Frank Porter Graham (class of 1909)
that he returned for Graham’s funeral and wrote
about him in one of his syndicated columns.
Wicker wrote 20 books, appeared frequently on TV news shows and was a popular
speaker on college campuses.
In his final column for The Times, he wrote,
“As the U.S. did not hesitate to spend its
resources to prevail in the Cold War, it needs
now to go forward as boldly to lead a longer,
more desperate struggle to save the planet, and
rescue the human race from itself.”
— Sally Walters