Doug Willis, 77, who followed Ronald Reagan from the governor's office to the presidential campaign trail and covered Jerry Brown's first stint as governor during a three-decade career writing about California politics for the Associated Press, died Tuesday at a hospital in Sacramento from complications following hip surgery, said his wife, Judy.
He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about three years ago and had been living in a memory-care home since summer, she said.
Judy Willis said it was especially sad that her husband suffered from dementia because he had such a quick wit, nimble mind and fail-safe memory throughout his journalism career and their 22-year marriage.
"Somebody once called him a walking encyclopedia," she said. "It's absolutely heartbreaking."
Indeed, Mr. Willis was something of an anomaly in a profession notorious for its aversion to math: He had won a full-ride engineering scholarship to Stanford University before getting bored with that major and switching to journalism.
Colleagues recalled him as a congenial but fierce competitor who never forgot a fact or let sources off the hook.
An only child, Mr. Willis was born in Oakland, Calif., and was raised by his mother and grandmother. His father died during World War II, shot down in the Pacific while serving in the Army Air Corps.