Ray Jenkins, a distinguished journalist who has been editor of The Evening Sun editorial pages since 1981, today announced his retirement effective Dec. 31.
"It has been my great privilege as a journalist to have had a ringside seat to the history of our times for the past 40 years, the last 10 of which have been spent at one of America's great newspapers," Jenkins said. "No one could have been blessed with a more interesting and personally rewarding career."
Jenkins, 61, a tall, gentlemanly Southerner, began his career at the Columbus, Ga., Ledger, where his reporting helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize in 1955. His stories of gambling, prostitution and corruption lead to the arrest and indictment of the mayor of Phenix City, Ala., an army post town near Fort Benning, Ga.
"I'll miss journalism, needless to say," he said. "But the time has come to make way for the many talented and dedicated journalists with their careers still ahead of them."
The conjunction of 40 years of journalist and a decade with The Evening Sun seemed to mark an auspicious time to take leave of daily journalism, he said.
Michael J. Davies, publisher of The Evening Sun, said it was "a sad duty" to accept Jenkins' retirement.
"Under his careful stewardship," Davies said, "the editorial and op-ed pages of The Evening Sun have improved dramatically."
Davies praised Jenkins' weekly column in the Saturday Sun. "Ray's writing has enlightened and entertained," Davies said.
A fiercely independent man who stuck by his liberal political philosophy when it was in and out of favor, Jenkins spent nearly 20 years covering civil rights for the Ledger and for the Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser-Journal.
"The most significant story I ever wrote," he said, "was a routine story I wrote in 15 minutes and that didn't even carry a byline."
It was a 12-inch story about an ad in the New York Times in 1960 that appealed for funds to defend the Rev. Martin Luther King in a perjury case in Montgomery. The ad castigated Alabama justice and Alabama public officials.
Jenkins story set in motion a series of events that led to the Supreme Court's landmark New York Times vs. Sullivan libel decision. The decision stiffened criteria for public officials in libel cases.
He later would spent 15 months as special assistant for press affairs in President Jimmy Carter's administration -- an enlightening experience, he said.
"The White House is a good place to have been," he said, "not to be."
He was a Neiman Fellow at Harvard Law School in 1964 and 1965. In 1989, he lectured on journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and at the University of Beijing.
He won numerous awards, including the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest reporting and the annual civil liberties award of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Jenkins, who lives in Guilford, has no plans to leave Baltimore. "It's been a good 10 years," he said.
And he'll continue to write. He has a couple of ideas for books. They'll be about the South.