Oregonian editor Bob Caldwell, a 30-year veteran whose paper won a Pulitzer Prize under his guidance, suffered a heart attack and passed away Saturday at the age of 63. His own paper commemorated Caldwell — “simply ‘Bob’ to everyone at The Oregonian” — for his “big smile and a bigger laugh. But those close to him also knew him to have a keen mind, excellent news judgment and a heart full of compassion.”
This is Caldwell’s legacy. He ought to be remembered for the editorial board that flourished under his direction since 1995 and the impact he had on both The Oregonian’s news and its newsroom. The fact that he died after an encounter with a much younger woman with whom he had a quasi-prostitution relationship should be no more than a footnote, although it’ll probably get much more attention in the national media.
A former Oregonian staffer sent this email to blogger Jim Romenesko on Monday:
The Oregonian’s longtime editorial editor Bob Caldwell, who was city editor for eight years before that and a real old-fashioned, kick-ass journalist in every respect, died of a heart attack on Saturday. The O won its Pulitzer for editorials under Bob’s guidance. He was a great guy, a fantastic editor and funny as hell.
And then this:
Holy shit, there’s this too on Bob Caldwell’s death.
The link he sent — “Bob Caldwell was with 23-year-old Tigard woman when he went into cardiac arrest” — revealed that Caldwell was in the young woman’s apartment when he was “coughing and then unresponsive” after a sex act. The woman, who would spend time with Caldwell in exchange for help paying for books and classes at Portland Community College, called for an ambulance. He was later pronounced dead. A family friend of Caldwell’s told The Oregonian that the editor was found dead in his car.
On Tuesday, Romenesko’s emailer followed up:
I’m just hoping there’s still room to discuss the guy’s work. However seamy his end, he was a fantastic newsman and one of the real gutsy, honest guys out there. Used his authority to bring up generations of journalists. Fought for good things at the paper and in the state. I hate to think all that gets ignored because of his gothic, and admittedly disturbing, end.
Indeed. But we’d hardly call his death disturbing. A man’s life is his life, and post-sex cardiac arrest is a damn fine way to go out. The police department declined to press prostitution charges, and we have no reason to believe Caldwell’s relationship with the young woman was exploitative.
His career in journalism was nothing less than distinguished. His section’s Pulitzer-winning editorials exposed problems at Oregon State Hospital and pushed for improvements in care for the mentally ill. He was a 30-year leader of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. He advocated government transparency and fought for the public’s right to information. For 30 years, the man made real news; it’d be a shame to remember him for landing in the tabloids.