Robert W. Matthews III, 75, was editor of Afro-American

December 11, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Robert W. Matthews III, retired executive editor of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper and former television and radio newsman, died Friday of cancer at his Roland Park home. He was 75.

Even after he retired from the Afro-American in 1990, Mr. Matthews still wrote his popular column, "All That Jazz," until a month ago. He started his career at the Afro-American in 1948 as a columnist and magazine editor.

"He was a consummate newspaper man," said Sam Lacy, longtime sports editor at the Afro-American. "He was very curious. He had a great ability to translate it into news."

It was a news sense that also led Mr. Matthews to pursue careers in radio and television.

He made the switch from the Afro-American in 1963 when he became a reporter and weekend anchorman at WEBB radio station. He moved to WBAL-TV the next year as a reporter and weekend anchor.

"He was the most experienced newsman in the newsroom," recalled former WBAL cub reporter Jim Young who worked with Mr. Matthews. "He was a precise newsman of the time."

Mr. Matthews was promoted at the station in 1966, making him the first black TV news director in Baltimore. He jumped to the national networks in 1968, where one of his first assignments for CBS was covering the Woodstock festival in 1969.

None of his colleagues was surprised by his continued success, which included positions as a news manager for NBC, bureau chief of NBC's Washington bureau and radio news director of WRC-WKYS radio in Washington until 1978, when he returned to Baltimore to edit Dawn magazine, an Afro-American supplement.

"He was studious. He had vision," Mr. Lacy said of his longtime friend who also was national editor at the paper from 1980 until 1984 before being named executive editor.

"The thing I remember most is that he could do so many things," said his son, Robert M. Matthews of Lochearn. "He was a writer. He was a musician. He was good with his hands. He was a good typist. He was so versatile."

One of his chief avocations was jazz, the younger Mr. Matthews said.

"He was an ambassador for jazz," agreed Baltimore jazz singer Ethel Ennis, a friend since 1941 when she and Mr. Matthews were neighbors at the Gilmore homes for low-income families. "Jazz meant everything to him. He enjoyed listening to jazz and being involved with the jazz world."

It was an interest that some say had roots in his Detroit upbringing and never left him. "He always wanted people to appreciate the music and the musicians," said Baltimore jazz singer Ruby Glover. "It'll be a great loss."

Mr. Matthews also was a founding member of the Jazz Listeners Club, which has met for more than 20 years in the Baltimore area. For his contributions to the jazz community, he was inducted into the Central Pennsylvania Jazz Hall of Fame and was honored by the Jazz Heritage Foundation of Baltimore.

Other memberships included the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Maryland Press Club and the Baltimore County Alliance for Rehabilitation. Mr. Matthews also served on the Governor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

At the time of his death, he was teaching a jazz course at Sojourner-Douglas College in East Baltimore, where he served on the board of directors. He enjoyed teaching others to play contract bridge and often organized tournaments, his son said.

Before coming to Baltimore in 1948, Mr. Matthews served in the Coast Guard in the Pacific during World War II after graduating from Wayne State University in Detroit. He was born in Albany, Ga., in 1920.

His first wife, the former Vashti Turley Murphy, daughter of Afro-American publisher, Carl Murphy, died in 1981.

A memorial service for Mr. Matthews will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. James Episcopal Church at Lafayette and Arlington avenues.

In addition to his son, Mr. Matthews is survived by his wife of 12 years, the former Kathleen Murray; two other sons, Carl C. Matthews of Baltimore and Army Lt. Col. Rodger M. Matthews of Columbus, Ohio; two daughters, Martha E. Schuler of Seckheim, Germany and Yvonne C. Butler of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

The family requests memorial contributions to the Fish Middelton Jazz Scholarship Fund Inc., P.O. Box 1768, Silver Spring 20915.

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