R. W. Apple Jr., Globe-Trotter for The Times and a Journalist in Full, Dies at 71

I read with sorrow in today’s New York Times of the recent death of R. W. Apple Jr.

He was one of the great reporters of modern times. The editors gave the honor of writing the obituary to one of their best reporters, Todd S. Purdum, as did the editors of the New York Herald Tribune over forty years ago when they asked their colleague Tom Wolfe to write the obituary of A. J. Liebling.

Here are few excerpts from the obituary:

R. W. Apple Jr., who in more than 40 years as a correspondent and editor at The New York Times wrote from more than 100 countries about war and revolution, politics and government, food and drink, and the revenge of living well, died yesterday in Washington. He was 71.

He remained a colorful figure as new generations of journalists around him grew more pallid, and his encyclopedic knowledge, grace of expression — and above all his expense account — were the envy of his competitors, imitators and peers.

Mr. Apple once told Lear’s magazine: “Newspaper people love impossible dreams. I suppose we’re reckless sentimentalists. If we didn’t love impossible dreams, we would not still be working in an industry whose basic technology was developed in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

“I used to say that Johnny grew into the person he was pretending to be when we were young,” said Joseph Lelyveld, a contemporary who rose to become executive editor of The Times. “Now I wonder whether he actually was that person then, and the rest of us didn’t know enough to realize it.”

He wrote about the topics that really compelled him — bourbon and bacon, potatoes and tomatoes, langoustines and mangosteens, barbecue and bouillabaisse, New Orleans and New Zealand.

For his 70th birthday, he gathered friends at the Paris bistro Chez L’Ami Louis, which he often described as his favorite restaurant, for heaping plates of foie gras, roast chicken, escargots, scallops and pommes Anna, washed down with gallons of burgundy and magnums of Calvados.

Mr. Trillin, who later wrote about the evening for Gourmet Magazine, quoted one guest who summed up Mr. Apple’s attitude toward the party, and toward the rich, long life and career that produced it: “It’s my understanding that Apple has simplified what could be a terribly difficult choice by telling them to bring everything.”

There is a single photograph, “R.W. Apple Jr., known as Johny, in April at a favorite place: Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orleans.”

The mention of New Orleans reminded me that the namesake of this blog was another man who took as much pleasure in a well-prepared meal as in a finely-polished paragraph. For example, here is the opening of The Earl of Louisiana:

Southern political personalities, like sweet corn, travel badly. They lose flavor with every hundred yards away from the patch. By the time they reach New York, they are like Golden Bantam that has been trucked up from Texas — stale and unprofitable. The consumer forgets that the corn tastes different where it grows.

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