Knowing Johnny Apple was not to be engulfed by a living legend of American journalism, though legend he was. Johnny was Johnny, a sweet man who loved good company, food and wine — incomparably good food and wine.
He was a great journalist whose unreplicable talents were recognized the first day he reported to The New York Times, the one who was always counted on to untangle complicated national or international situations with a front-page analysis.
Johnny could turn out those pieces in a flash, because he had stored an inventory of first-hand knowledge collected in decades of reporting from 100 countries.
He did one of those pieces, wedged in to his schedule while he was here in 2003 to speak at the annual Letters to the Editor banquet and do the Ayers Lecture at Jacksonville State University.
Now my wife, Josephine, has a deserved reputation as a cook, but having a world-famous gastronome as a houseguest was a daunting challenge. She was a little nervous. “Tell her not to worry,” said Johnny. “Do something simple, like roast chicken.”
Chicken figures into a typical Johnny Apple tale. The one Alabamian that Johnny wanted to see when he left us was Frank Stitt, chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill.
Unfortunately Johnny had to rush back to Washington on assignment, but I passed on greetings and regrets to Frank a short time later at his restaurant. Frank suggested an entree of roast chicken in which the skin on two sides was peeled back and stuffed with truffles.
It was not only delicious but gave Josephine and me a chance to pass on a recipe that Johnny might not know. His return e-mail revealed the name and date that the French woman chef invented the dish, and said she put the truffles in only one side.
Being with Johnny and Betsy at a Washington restaurant was to be at the center of a gathering that included a solicitously hovering owner, sommelier and a crew of waiters.
Being with Johnny was a perfect delight. He was Churchillian in girth, in knowledge and grace of language. He was larger than life, but sadly, as we learned yesterday, not larger than death.
— H. B. A.
R.W. Apple Jr.: A tribute to a journalist’s journalist
R.W. Apple Jr., the noted correspondent and associate editor for The New York Times, died Wednesday in Washington.
Apple was a champion of quality journalism, and in 2003 honored us by delivering the keynote speech at the Harry M. & Edel Ayers Lecture Series sponsored by The Anniston Star and Jacksonville State University.
In tribute, The Star is offering an exerpt from the speech he gave on April 1, 2003.
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It’s a real pleasure to be in Alabama with the wisteria and red bud in bloom. And, to be reminded by my old friend, Brandy Ayers, and his newspaper how much good journalism can contribute to a community.
I’m a Midwesterner, as you’ve heard, and I’m unfortunate enough to have seen good newspapers that contributed greatly to the community in places like Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Des Moines — and on the edge of the Midwest, Louisville — gobbled up by the chains. They produce pap that in no way fulfills my idea of what a newspaper should be. The Anniston Star does.
Now, my noble friend has developed and promoted a new kind of journalism in which he’s trying to transform local journalism into something more noble, community journalism. He is an international figure at conferences where journalism theorists speak. As those of you at the lunch saw, I am a theoretical incompetent. I do it. I don’t think a lot about it.
I’m a very instinctive journalist, so I feel a little bit inadequate to be up here today. I am by inclination a “grunt” and not a general. This had an interesting consequence when I was in the United States Army. I am of the generation that went through the draft, and by some tremendous miscarriage of justice, I was assigned to a job that required writing ability.
Normally, I would have thought I would have been assigned to a vehicle maintenance battalion, but I found myself writing speeches for two four-star generals, Willard Wyman, one of the heroes in the Battle of the Bulge on D-Day, and Maxwell Taylor, one of the heroes, period, of the 20th century American military life. I never made it past Pvt. E-2, and after a few months, General Taylor said to me, “Apple.”
I said, “Yes, Sir?”
He said, “You offend me.”
I thought, “Oh, God, he didn’t like this speech. I thought it was a good speech.”
He said, “You are the worst looking soldier I’ve ever seen.” He said, “First of all, it’s an offence to have somebody in here who can’t even make Pvt. First Class, and second, you wear a uniform like a gunnysack. Would you do me a favor and wear a suit to work? It would help my morale.”
Well, that was fine with me. It really set me on my career path. As a result of that, I do know something about wars and the coverage of wars.