Larry Williams, whose nickname of “Pit Bull” described his relentless drive, played a critical role in The Inquirer’s Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and had a long and successful career in journalism after leaving Philadelphia in 1986.
“His appetite for journalism never waned and never, ever slowed down,” his wife, Marcia Myers, said Tuesday.
Mr. Williams, 74, of Washington, died Monday, Dec. 9, at George Washington University Hospital of a bacterial infection.
Hired at The Inquirer in 1971, Mr. Williams wore several hats, among them labor writer, city editor, and metro projects editor.
William K. Marimow, who won two Pulitzers at The Inquirer and later became editor, recalled what it was like to follow Mr. Williams as labor writer. “No matter how hard I worked.... I couldn’t come close to Larry’s productivity, his mastery of the beat, and his incredible enthusiasm,” Marimow recalled.
But it was as business editor that Mr. Williams made his biggest mark, helping direct the breaking news coverage of the nuclear accident in central Pennsylvania. The coverage won the 1980 Pulitzer for spot news.
“Larry was one of the pivotal editors in fashioning a lackluster Inquirer into what became one of the nation’s top five newspapers. He turned what had been a small, undistinguished business news department into one of the nation’s best,” said former Inquirer executive editor Eugene L. Roberts Jr. “But his influence on the paper went far beyond business news, into major investigative reporting and the design and layout of the paper. His drive and talent were exceptional.”
Gilbert M. Gaul, who would win his second Pulitzer at The Inquirer, recalled on Facebook how Mr. Williams “boiled over with ideas, and most of them were damn good. He was a smart, tough editor, and extraordinarily talented at the top of a story. He worked too long and too hard, yet could be kindhearted and even soft.”
Gaul also recalled that when he was interviewing to join the newspaper, Mr. Williams took him “to some fleabag place for lunch during my interview, and he had no money, so I paid. It was so Larry. Loved it.”
Mr. Williams left Philadelphia in 1986 to become managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, at that time also part of the Knight-Ridder newspaper group. The timing was perfect, as corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith was about to take a run at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Mr. Williams enlisted dozens of Beacon Journal staffers to cover every angle of the potentially devastating financial raid, right down to the views of the sweeper in the barber shop at Goodyear headquarters.
In his unpublished memoir, Beacon Journal editor Dale Allen recalled walking into the newsroom on Thanksgiving morning and finding Mr. Williams asleep, his feet propped up on a desk and a folder full of notes spread across his lap. He had been at the paper all night.
The Ohio newspaper won the Pulitzer for general news for its Goodyear coverage in 1987.
Mr. Williams — whose uproarious laugh could be heard throughout a newsroom — met his future wife at the Beacon Journal. After three years, Mr. Williams relocated to Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau and, later, the Baltimore Sun, from which he retired in 2009.
He was born in 1945 in Carlisle, Pa. He attended Drexel University to study industrial engineering on a scholarship. But during an engineering stint in Charleston, W.Va., near the end of his Drexel studies, Mr. Williams took a night job at the Charleston Gazette and became obsessed with journalism.
Happy on the water, Mr. Williams sailed competitively as a Drexel student and continued sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and in Maine, where he and his wife owned a second home. He was adept at woodcut prints and built stone walls.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Williams is survived by daughters Christy Winslow and Sarah Williams; a grandson; a sister; and a brother.
Burial at Boiling Springs, Pa., was private. A celebration of Mr. Williams’ life is being planned in Washington in early 2020.