H. Kingston Fleming, 99, `Sun' editor, author who worked with Oppenheimer

June 18, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

H. Kingston Fleming, former managing editor of The Sun who later worked with J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the "father of the atomic bomb," died Wednesday of cancer at his DeLand, Fla., home. He was 99.

Mr. Fleming, with his full head of white hair and pipe, was known throughout his life by his colleagues and friends as "H. K."

He was born and raised in Birkenhead, England, and attended the University of London and the London School of Economics.

After working on newspapers in Yorkshire and London, Mr. Fleming emigrated to New York in 1924 and joined the staff of The Sun that year as a reporter in Baltimore.

He was successively an editorial writer, New York correspondent, city editor, assistant managing editor, then succeeded William E. Moore as managing editor of The Sun after Mr. Moore died in 1941.

During his tenure on the newspaper, he developed a close and lasting friendship with journalist H. L. Mencken. In his memoir, "In the Shadow of the Butterfly," published in 1995, he described first seeing Mr. Mencken in 1925 and thinking he resembled a "bartender" dressed in suspenders with his hair parted in the middle and his ever-present cigar.

"Still young and bouncy, Mencken was approaching the height of his fame. To look at him, no one would take him for a famous literary figure and editor of a famous magazine, The American Mercury," he wrote.

Describing Mencken's language as that of the "meat ax," he wrote, "He guffawed at liberalism and idealism. He was a materialist and proud of it. As he saw it, there was no God, no Heaven, no life after death. ... He had no hope for human progress and he looked upon the human scene and the human species as a marvelous theater."

Harold A. Williams, retired editor of the Sunday Sun who was then a rewrite man, recalled Mr. Fleming yesterday as a "very friendly and approachable guy who inspired reporters to improve their writing."

"He was always out on the city room floor and was very agreeable. He was extremely intelligent and took a cerebral approach to news coverage. He had a good sense of humor and wrote extremely well," said Mr. Williams, ofTowson.

Tiring of The Sun's anti-Roosevelt stance and having been denied a transfer to the Washington bureau, Mr. Fleming wrote, "As I reviewed the future from my office as managing editor, I saw it as a straight and narrow corridor, without lights or shadows. Each year I might anticipate a raise and a bonus. The old Chrysler would be transformed into a new one. I could join the Baltimore Country Club and might even aspire to the Elkridge Kennels."

In 1942, he resigned his position to do war work in Washington. Appointed chief of the State Department's Board of Economic Warfare, he directed the Blockade Division. While there, he oversaw the setting up of an organization in South America to thwart Nazi attempts at smuggling platinum and industrial diamonds. He later expanded the operation to include Spain and Portugal.

A year later, he transferred to the State Department's Eastern Hemisphere Division, where he was assistant chief. Later, he was assistant to the director of American republics affairs, which handled diplomatic matters in South American republics.

A former Ruxton and Roland Park resident who moved to Sandy Spring, Mr. Fleming resigned from the State Department in 1948 to write a novel, "Eden-Eden."

Later, he was a self-employed potter until becoming assistant editor of the Princeton Herald in New Jersey in 1949.

While living in Princeton, he applied for a position at the Institute for Advanced Study. He was hired as general manager and secretary to the board of trustees by Mr. Oppenheimer.

"He loved Oppenheimer, whom he called `Oppie.' He also introduced my father to his 10-to-1 martinis, which they both enjoyed," said a daughter, Paula Fleming Wharram of London, referring to their drinks of 10 parts gin, one part dry vermouth.

Of Oppenheimer, he observed in his memoirs, "I began to look on Oppie with new eyes, as a Faustian figure loping across the Institute grounds to his haven at Olden Manor. Although at the time I didn't know it, the Secret Service had its eye on him as well as everyone who spoke with him or met him. He was a man of moods."

After leaving the institute in 1954 and moving to Severna Park, Mr. Fleming was assistant chairman of the Maryland Republican State Central Committee until joining the Federal Housing Administration in 1956.

Later an assistant administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency, he retired in 1965 as area coordinator of urban renewal in the agency's San Francisco office.

"He was truly a man of the century. He crossed paths with many of the century's historical figures, people like Einstein, Lenin and Gandhi, in the course of his various, disparate careers, but it didn't change him," said longtime friend Martin Millspaugh, vice chairman of the Enterprise Real Estate Services Inc. in Columbia.

"He was always considerate and charming, brimming with intelligence and creativity and humor, interested in all frontiers of knowledge but with no interest in gaining recognition for himself," Mr. Millspaugh said.

Mr. Fleming, who became a naturalized citizen in 1937, also enjoyed writing poetry.

In 1931, he married Doris Brown, who died in 1988. In 1989, he married Jane Schaill, who survives him. At his request, there will be no services.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Pamela Fleming Hollyday of Hampden; and a grandson.

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