Santa Rosa resident Frank McCulloch, acclaimed reporter, California newspaper editor, dies at 98
Frank McCulloch, a retired newsman commonly hailed as a journalist’s journalist and one of the nation’s finest, most hard-driven and principled reporters and editors, died Monday at a Santa Rosa retirement residence.
McCulloch was a formidable, bald-headed Marine Corps veteran who distinguished himself through aggressive coverage of the war in Vietnam and organized crime, and who mentored generations of journalists as an editor with the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Examiner. He was 98.
“Personally,” Stephanie Salter, a longtime friend and former columnist with the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, wrote in a note to McCulloch’s two daughters and their families in Santa Rosa, “I see a magnificent redwood fallen softly to the ground.”
Daughter Michaele “Dee Dee” Parman, widow of late Press Democrat publisher Mike Parman, said her father “was kind of a guru to the people who worked with him. He just made a mark wherever he went.”
Dee Dee Parman’s sister, Candace “Candy” Akers, said any number of people have sought her help in defining Frank McCulloch and his potent effect on others.
“It was a matter of whoever Daddy met, it didn’t matter what their station was, he touched them at the core,” she said. “He knew their worth.”
“He was a grand, gentle man.”
Both daughters of the celebrated newsman said that in recent years the decline of the printed newspaper and
news magazine circulation distressed him.
“He was heartbroken. He was truly heartbroken,” Akers said. “He kept the faith that newspapers would survive. He also felt a great sadness that they would not.”
Through the course of his 50 years in journalism, McCulloch wielded huge influence on the craft of reporting and on innumerable colleagues and the advocacy of an independent, fearless and unbiased press.
McCulloch once said, “We admit the free press is not what it should be, and probably never will be. But the inescapable truth is, it’s all we’ve got. For better or worse, so long as this remains an open society, you and we - a free people and a free press - are stuck with each other. Shouldn’t it behoove both of us to try to understand each other better?”
Born in 1920 on a ranch in Fernley, Nevada, McCulloch studied journalism at the University of Nevada at Reno. He loved baseball - he’d follow the San Francisco Giants to his last day - and he might have pursued going pro had journalism not stolen his affection.
He became editor of the college newspaper, The Sagebrush. Also while at UNR he met and fell in love with Jakie Caldwell.
McCulloch graduated with honors in 1941 and promptly went to work as a reporter for United Press in San Francisco. He and Caldwell were wed the following year. They had three children, traveled the world and were inseparable for six decades.
Said Dee Dee Parman, “They had a remarkable relationship, even though my dad moved my mom 27 times.” Jakie McCulloch died nearly 12 years ago.
America’s role in World War II was expanding when Frank McCulloch left United Press and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
A detected heart murmur - McCulloch called the medical condition “bogus” - kept him stateside. He wrote about the war for the Marines’ public information office in San Francisco.
At war’s end he returned to Reno and began reporting news and sports for the Reno Evening Gazette. In his first incursion into investigative reporting, he dug into how the Mafia was obtaining gambling licenses in Las Vegas.
Former Reno reporter Lou Cannon, who went on to write for the San Jose Mercury News and the Washington Post and to become a biographer of Ronald Reagan, said in 2004, “All of us who were journalists in Nevada in those days aspired to be like Frank. He seemed to me to have all the journalistic virtues: He was skeptical. He was fair. He was kind to those less fortunate. He met the test of ‘afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.’?”
With the outbreak of the Korean War, McCulloch returned to stateside service with the Marines. Following that, he hired on at Time Magazine, writing extensively about the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. He authored or co-authored about 200 Time cover stories.
As chief of Time-Life’s Southeast Asia bureau, McCulloch became a fatherly figure among the war correspondents.
“Frank was a generation older than most of us,” the late Morley Safer said in 2004. Destined to report for “60 Minutes,” Safer was in the mid-1960s the CBS News bureau chief and correspondent in Saigon.
“Most of the guys from the World War II era were stodgy, but Frank was psychologically closer to our generation than the ‘old farts’ generation, looking at the war from the 1960s, instead of the 1940s,” Safer said.