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Originally published Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 5:34 PM

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Journalist William J. Tobin dies at age 81

William "Bill" J. Tobin, the first correspondent for The Associated Press in Juneau and a consummate reporter and newspaperman, has died. He was 81.

Associated Press Writer


William "Bill" J. Tobin, the first correspondent for The Associated Press in Juneau and a consummate reporter and newspaperman, has died. He was 81.

Tobin died of cancer on Sunday at his home in Anchorage. A funeral mass will be held Wednesday at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage.

"He wanted to get the story, to get to the bottom and tell the story," said Mike Tobin, one of his three sons. "That reporter curiosity never ended."

During his career, Bill Tobin helped tell Alaska's story of discovering North Slope oil, building the trans-Alaska pipeline and the devastating effects of the 1964 earthquake.

"He was a natural born reporter. It was never about him. It was always about the story," said Dave Tobin, another son.

Bill Tobin was born on July 28, 1927, in Joplin, Mo. He graduated from Butler University in 1948 with a degree in journalism.

His journalism career began at the Indianapolis Star. He joined The Associated Press in 1948. From Indianapolis, he transferred to bureaus in New York City, Louisville, Ky., and Juneau, where in 1956 at age 28 he became the AP's first capital city correspondent for Alaska.

"This forward step reflects The Associated Press' recognition of the increased importance and growth of the territory," Frank J. Starzel, AP's general manager, said at the time.

Tobin accompanied Vice President Richard Nixon and his family on a tour of Alaska just before statehood in 1958. He was with Sen. John Kennedy during his campaign stops in 1960 when Alaskans for the first time voted in U.S. elections.

Tobin later wrote that covering the statehood campaign and the vote for statehood "was a thrilling job for me."

In 1960, Tobin was named the AP's assistant bureau chief in Baltimore. A year later, he became bureau chief in Helena, Mont.

By that time, Tobin was married with three sons and the frequent moves were hard on family life. When he thought about where he wanted to make his permanent home, it was Alaska.


In 1963, he called Robert "Bob" Atwood, the owner of the Anchorage Times, and asked if there was a job for him in Alaska. Atwood offered him managing editor and Tobin accepted, eventually becoming editor-in-chief and assistant publisher of the newspaper. Tobin stayed with the Times until it ceased publication in 1992.

The owner at the Times then paid for a daily conservative, half-page op-ed space in the Anchorage Daily News, called the Voice of the Times. Tobin was senior editor of that section from 1992 until it ended in October 2008.

The month the Voice of the Times ceased operation, Tobin was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer. He died six months later.

Tom Brennan, the former editor of the Times, said Tobin hired him in 1967.

"He was one of the big guys, really a fine individual and a good, a great newsman," Brennan said. "He wasn't after the big story. He was just trying to cover his community."

During his life, Tobin was an energetic civic leader, serving as board member or president of nearly 40 community organizations.

"He could connect with people," Mike Tobin said. "He was always more interested in listening to people than talking himself."

Tobin is survived by Marjorie, his wife of nearly 57 years, and three sons, Mike, Dave and Jim, as well as two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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