Homer Bigart, who was widely regarded by his colleagues as the greatest newspaper reporter of his time, died this week at the age of 83. In his 43 years in journalism, he accumulated just about every prize that was offered, including two Pulitzers, and his work inspired nothing short of awe among his peers.
In an age when TV makes celebrity journalists, Homer Bigart of the New York Times was a "generalist" -- a reporter who could cover any story, be it a local zoning dispute or a civil war in Africa, with consummate skill and integrity. But no matter how mundane the event, his story always scintillated with accuracy, clarity, comprehensiveness and solid authority.
For all his brilliance in performance, he remained a reticent man whose shyness was reflected in a pronounced stammer -- which, to a reporter having to pose questions to presidents and other potentates, could be a distinct handicap. But even his own condition was not above his witty raillery. We shall ever treasure the memory of a joke he made on himself in a bar one evening after the umpteen-thousandth deadline had been met.
"I once went to an expert to cure my stammering," he said. "I learned to say, 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.' But the trouble is, it r-r-rarely oc-c-curs in c-c-conversation."