Francis X. Clines, a reporter, columnist and overseas correspondent for The New York Times whose commentaries on the information and lyrical profiles of strange New Yorkers have been extensively admired as a classy, literary type of journalism, died on Sunday at his house in Manhattan. He was 84.
His spouse, Alison Mitchell, a senior editor and former assistant managing editor at The Times, mentioned the trigger was esophageal most cancers, which was recognized in February 2021.
To generations of Times colleagues, Mr. Clines was an nearly best reporter: a eager observer, a tenacious fact-finder and a paragon of integrity and equity who may write gracefully towards a deadline. He resisted reward with a shrug or a little bit of self-deprecating deadpan.
He labored his complete 59-year profession for The Times (1958-2017), beginning as a duplicate boy with out a faculty diploma or formal journalism coaching. After years as a political reporter at New York’s City Hall, the Statehouse in Albany and the Reagan White House, he corresponded from London, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Moscow, the place he coated the final days of the Soviet Union.
As a nationwide correspondent later, he tracked political campaigns and the Washington scene, taking occasional journeys by means of the hills and hollows of Appalachia to put in writing of a largely hidden Other America. And for practically 20 years earlier than retiring, he produced editorials and “Editorial Observer” columns hailing labor and social progressives, and lambasting the gun foyer and Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Clines established his status as a literary stylist with “About New York,” a long-running column begun by the (*84*) Prize-winning reporter Meyer (Mike) Berger, who died in 1959. One of a number of Berger successors, Mr. Clines wrote the column from 1976 to 1979. Though sometimes about news-related occasions, his column was principally dedicated to vivid portraits of New Yorkers — the wealthy and the poor, the influential and the forgotten.
He known as them sketches of town. They have been factual profiles overlaid together with his observations and literary allusions, typically humanistic in tone and fairly private, like a brother’s letters house about extraordinary folks he had met.
“Tomorrow is Alice Matthew’s birthday,” Mr. Clines wrote in a typical vein on Oct. 6, 1976, “and if you ask politely she will tell you about her 93 years, from the time she saw the dappled firehorse that led to her elopement from Indiana 74 years ago, to the night here in her welfare room where she saw the spirit of Louis XIV, and he had his beautiful white horse lay his head on the counterpane of the bedridden woman to comfort her.”
“None of these stories is sad,” he went on. “Mrs. Matthews sees to that. She represents a small drain on the city Human Resources Administration budget. But she herself is a major human resource of memory and good company who belongs as logically in the slick Big Apple ads about the city’s strengths as she does in the roach-infested room that she graces at the Hotel Earle off Washington Square.”
Mr. Clines wrote three 900-word “About New York” columns per week. He profiled a solitary Etruscan scholar pursuing his work from a single room in a “frugal West Side hotel,” and a shoe salesman who turned pages for live performance pianists. He went to a racetrack with a wealthy landlord, spent an evening watching road prostitutes, and typically simply listened to night sounds after closing time at the Bronx Zoo. Once, he attended a Chinese funeral with an Italian band enjoying the dirge.
“Beyond a matter of life and death, the tableau represented a bit of symbiosis in neighboring cultures of Chinatown and Little Italy thriving tightly about Canal Street in Manhattan,” he wrote. “So there was Carmine inside Bacigalupo’s assembling his men in front of Mr. Yee’s open coffin and giving a downbeat for such songs as ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ and a gentle, airy tune from the old neighborhood, ‘Il Tuo Popolo’ (‘Your People’). The music seemed to soothe the mourners.”
On an evening of marauding crowds throughout a citywide blackout in 1977, Mr. Clines caught an uglier side of the city: “The looters scattered, roachlike, in the full morning sunlight, then stopped to watch brazenly when the owner of Joe’s candy store showed up and saw his store disemboweled onto the Brownsville sidewalk. He let out a furious howl.”
Mr. Clines’s columns received Columbia University’s Mike Berger Award in 1979, and the following yr the most effective of them have been collected in a e-book, “About New York.”
As a London-based correspondent from 1986 to 1989, he coated British politics, arts and common information, but in addition traveled to breaking information on the Continent, within the Middle East and in Northern Ireland, the place gun battles and terrorist bombings generally known as “the Troubles” killed Protestants and Catholics with numbing regularity.
He adopted up that posting with one in Moscow, from 1989 to 1992, when he helped cowl the tip of Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s presidency and the collapse of Soviet Communism.
No matter the place he was writing from, nevertheless, he delivered to his reporting the identical observant eye and finely attuned ear. From Belfast in 1988, for instance, he wrote of a bit of woman surrounded by demise:
“Beyond the coffin, out in the churchyard, red-haired Kathleen Quinn was full of fun and flirting shamelessly for all her eight years of life. ‘Mister, I’m to be on the TV tonight,’ she told a stranger, squinting up happy and prim. Kathleen had taken her brother’s bike and skinned her knee bloody, all while people were praying goodbye inside the church to another rebel body in another coffin.
“As it turned out, the television ignored Kathleen and missed a classic Irish truth, a sight for sore eyes. She climbed back on the bike and headed off in a blur, oblivious of a piece of nearby graffiti that seemed all about life’s withering dangers: ‘I wonder each night what the monster will do to me tomorrow.’”
Francis Xavier Clines was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 7, 1938, the youngest of three kids of an accountant, Francis A. Clines, and Mary Ellen (Lenihan) Clines. The boy, known as Frank, and his sisters, Eileen and Peggy, grew up within the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Frank attended the all-boys St. Francis Preparatory School, then within the Williamsburg part, the place he graduated first in his class of 1956. He was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and a voracious reader of novels, biographies, historical past and poetry. He enrolled at Fordham University however quickly dropped out earlier than serving two years within the Army.
After his discharge, he utilized for a job at The Times and was employed largely on the power of an essay he submitted detailing his hopes for a journalism profession. After a yr of clerical work, he wrote radio information bulletins for WQXR, The Times’s AM and FM stations, then coated the police beat and common assignments.
His marriage to Kathleen Conniff in 1960 led to divorce within the early Nineteen Nineties. He married Ms. Mitchell in 1995, when she was the City Hall bureau chief for The Times, the 2 having met her when she was the Moscow bureau chief for Newsday.
In addition to Ms. Mitchell, he’s survived by his first spouse; 4 kids from his first marriage, John, Kevin, Michael and Laura Clines; and a sister, Eileen Lawrence. Another sister, Peggy Meehan Simon, died.
There are some ways to deflate pomposity, which is one motive Mr. Clines relished masking the State Legislature in Albany. Beyond the drumbeat of recent legal guidelines and proposed taxes, he dissected the mores of lesser-light legislators with a Celtic sense of the absurd: their overblown rhetoric about public service, their crude consuming habits throughout debates, their shedding bouts with the mom tongue — all have been honest recreation and duly reported.
“I think he was the best newspaper writer of our time,” Charles Kaiser, a former Times reporter, mentioned in a current e-mail. “His success said more about the paper’s commitment to beautiful writing than anything else could.”
Mr. Clines as soon as wrote a column on Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, which may have been a type of self-revelation, saying: “He fights to keep things basic, to remind himself of the simple wisdom of Finn MacCool, Ireland’s mythic national hero, that the best music in the world is the music of what happens. In his ‘Elegy,’ dedicated to Lowell, Heaney reminded himself:
‘The way we are living,
Timorous or bold,
Will have been our life.’”