Joseph Wachtman, 75, reporter and editor for the News American

March 12, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Joseph Wachtman, a Baltimore News American maritime reporter and editor who juggled a variety of duties before the newspaper closed, died Thursday of heart failure at Washington Hospital Center. He was 75 and had lived in Frederick for the last six years.

His longest and fondest assignment at the newspaper was as maritime editor during the 1970s, said daughter Jan Hyland of Lucketts, Va.

"One highlight was when the tall ships came for the 1976 Bicentennial," she said, recalling accompanying her father to the event while in grade school. "The birth of the harbor into what it is today was a big highlight for him; to watch the city grow was important to him."

"He thought the aquarium was one of the greatest things for the harbor and Baltimore City."

His counterpart at The Sun was Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman and now a maritime and business consultant, who covered the waterfront from 1945 to 1969 and competed against Mr. Wachtman.

"Joe was a very decent guy. He was a good competitor. He helped keep me and my brood on our toes," said Mrs. Bentley, who had a staff of young reporters at the time. While her beat included national transportation issues, she said Mr. Wachtman focused more on local news, such as shipbuilding and maritime issues that affected the Baltimore region.

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Mr. Wachtman served in the U.S. Navy air force from 1943 to 1947, building planes and flying aboard reconnaissance missions along the East Coast from bases in Florida and Oklahoma. He entered the University of Oklahoma on the GI Bill, worked on the college newspaper covering sports, and earned his degree in journalism in 1950.

Returning to his native Pennsylvania, Mr. Wachtman covered courts for the Carlisle Sentinel, then worked from 1953 to 1958 for the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal, covering sports and the farm beat -- "from hog-calling contests to basketball," his daughter said -- as a reporter and editor before joining the News American.

After beginning as a rewrite man taking reports over the telephone, he produced a log of events in the city's federal building, from which he moved into maritime reporting.

In 1958, he married Joan Cousins, and before moving to Columbia in 1970 the couple lived for a time on Paca Street near the News American offices on East Pratt Street, amid an assortment of colorful and sometimes seedy characters.

"But he loved it -- the stories, the people. He was a newspaperman -- a tough cookie, but always a straight, honest guy," Mrs. Hyland said.

In the early 1980s as the paper struggled, Mr. Wachtman began a string of assignments including the business desk, wire editor, front-page editor and copy editor.

"At some point near the end of the paper, he did everything from business editing to book reviews to the obit page. They were just tossing people everywhere," she said.

"He was a big believer in a two-paper town," Mrs. Hyland said.

He retired at age 61, in poor health, when the newspaper closed in 1986.

After retiring, Mr. Wachtman enjoyed golf and fishing, and supported the National Aquarium and the Smithsonian Institution. He also believed in lifelong education, and sometimes read two books a day; he particularly enjoyed history and mysteries.

Funeral services will be at 3 p.m. Monday at the Haight Funeral Home and Chapel on Route 32 in Sykesville, with burial at Oakland Methodist Church.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Wachtman is survived by daughter Lise Delawder of Sykesville; a brother, Robert Wachtman of Harrisburg, Pa.; a sister, Katherine Beaver of Mifflinburg, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

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