I want to add a little something before I start to what Otto said about
the piles of papers.
They’re not gone. They’re back at our house, and I’m going to try to get them to the
University of Indiana -- we’re working on that -- because I think there’s probably quite a
few in there that are of historical importance and might be of some use to scholars.
I’d like to start by telling you that, after dad passed away last week -- and after both the
AP and The New York Times put out wonderful obits -- I went out on the Internet to find
out which newspapers used the stories. Here’s a partial list: the Daily News, the New
York Post, Newsday, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, the
Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times -- and even the Contra Costa, California,
Times. As any wire service journalist can tell you, dad would be very happy with that
kind of play.
I also want to share with you a very nice remembrance of my father from
University Professor Mike Berlin, who covered the U.N. for the New York Post and The
Washington Post when dad was there: “Over the years, I stood beside him for hundreds of
hours, chatting and waiting for some stiff to emerge from a closed meeting and tell us,
“He was famous for his attention to detail and his literalmindedness,
and for his unerring
accuracy and nose for news..
He was the ultimate source we would all go to when we missed that moment
stiff came out of the closed-door meeting and actually said something, because Bill was
unfailingly there and unfailingly got what was said right.”
I knew William Oatis both as a father and, as an AP newsman myself during
dad’s last years there, as a colleague. I have yet to consider myself anywhere near his
Dad had many of the qualities that make a good journalist, as you’ve
been hearing here.
He was a stickler for accuracy, had an eye for detail and was curious about almost
His insistence on getting the facts straight and finding out (things)
applied to both his
professional and his private lives.
On his return to freedom in 1953 ... after two years behind bars in
photographers wanted to take a picture of him eating a frankfurter in Frankfurt. There
was only one problem: dad was at the Frankfurt airport, which was outside the city limits.
He allowed his picture to be taken only on condition that they make that clear in the
He was a desk editor, by the way, way back, on the Foreign Desk.
Back in the states, he had to reapply for his driver’s license. He’d
been out of the country
for quite some time. The form he filled out included a section on whether he had been
convicted of a crime. He answered truthfully -- he had. Asked to specify the crime, he
Now, I’m sure that, at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism,
that must have
given some New York state bureaucrat a thrill.
As to details, dad never stopped gathering information, and I mean never.
trips, he would count the number of cars in a train going by, or time how long it took to
get somewhere. As a child, whenever I mentioned a playmate, he wanted to know the last
name, and where they lived and what their dad did and all that -- and, frankly, sometimes
it did drive me a little crazy ...
BUT his curiosity was one of the things I treasure most about him. He
was interested in
nearly everything. He devoured newspapers and books. The books in his library included
not only the Bible, but the Koran and the Book of Mormon. He spent much of his spare
time in museums -- Natural History, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, you name it --
and I was often right along with him. Usually willingly.
Now, as my brother told you, he was a major-league jazz buff. But his
to other forms of music, including acid rock. During the 1960s, he took me to a Jefferson
Airplane concert at the Fillmore East. He was almost certainly the only person in the
room wearing a suit, suspenders and bow tie. And after the concert, he told me it wasn’t
exactly his cup of tea -- but the point is he checked it out. And, at the time, he was 55
years old. That’s curiosity.
Now, in announcing his death last week ... U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard
“jaunty bow ties.” He was old-fashioned -- idiosyncratic, even -- in how he dressed, but
he did have his reasons.
He favored three-piece suits so he could use the vest as a virtual
bandolier for pens --
three in each pocket. He never had a pen run dry on him. Whether deliberately or not, the
bow tie made him stand out from the other reporters when he was at a news conference
or trying to catch up to a running diplomat.
Now, you might have expected someone who wore boaters in the summer
to wear wingtips on his feet. But he wore those penny loafers Jeremy mentioned
everywhere -- even on fishing trips and on hikes -- everywhere. He once told me that if
penny loafers were good enough for Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, they were
good enough for him. He also favored the Irish wool hats worn by U.S. Ambassador
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. But he waited ... until Moynihan had left the U.N. before he
started wearing them for fear that he appear to be too much of a fan. He didn’t want to
compromise his objectivity, as it were.
But I think that the quality that most defined his life was his deep
love for the AP -- 47
years -- and for the journalist’s trade. He even found his wife -- my mother -- at the AP,
where she worked in the News Library.
Growing up, I remember that, while many of my friends’ fathers seemd
to regard their
jobs mainly as a way to put bread on the table, my father genuinely enjoyed his work -- to
the point where he had to be told to go home now and again. When I was in college --
majoring in biology and Russian -- I took a course in journalism so I could better
understand why my father loved his job so much.
And I found that, I too, was hooked.
I also want to pay tribute to mother, Laurabelle Oatis, who struggled
heroically -- and I
do not use the word lightly -- to care for my father as Alzheimer’s disease slowly,
inexorably robbed him of his intellect. He would have died years ago had it not been for
her. She did everything she could to keep him healthy and happy, often to the detriment
of her own health.
At the risk of repeating a cliche, Bill Oatis may be dead but he is
not gone. He lives on in
our memories, and in his children and grandchildren. And he -- and others like him -- live
on as long as any journalist practices the craft the way he did -- with excellence and with
I want to thank you very much for coming to help us remember an exceptional
are very grateful for your presence and your support today.