Thomas Edison Wark, 82, of Las Cruces, N.M, acclaimed editor

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Camera icon Lois Wark photo

Thomas Wark

Thomas Edison Wark, 82, of Las Cruces, N.M, a retired journalist who held senior editing positions at newspapers, including The Inquirer, died Friday, Aug. 18, of pancreatic cancer at Mesilla Valley Hospice in Las Cruces.

When he revealed his terminal diagnosis to friends in early July, Mr. Wark was upbeat. “It’s been a good ride,” he emailed. “No regrets. Grateful for so many good friends.”

Boyce Rensberger, a friend who worked with Mr. Wark at the Detroit Free Press in the 1960s and at the New York Times in the 1970s, called him “one of the finest editors of the golden age of American journalism.”

David Cay Johnston, another former colleague, said Mr. Wark helped him climb the journalistic ladder. “I owe much of my career to Tom’s spotting me among the many New York Times stringers in 1971 to 1973, and getting me to the Detroit Free Press. Love the guy.”

In 1966, while working in Detroit, Mr. Wark created a public-service column called Action Line which became a staple of U.S. newspapers during the 1960s and 1970s. Readers wrote in with problems, and the newspaper staff solved them and published the results. At the height of its popularity, the column generated 500 calls a day, according to a 2000 history of the Motor City.

Derick Daniels, former executive editor of the Free Press, called Mr. Wark “the father of Action Line.” One of the column’s first researchers, and then its writer, was Lois Sutherland. Later, she became Lois S. Wark, his wife, and an Inquirer assistant managing editor.

Action Line was such a hit that editors from around the world came to Detroit to observe the operation before launching their own versions of the column.

Mr. Wark also was part of the team of editors who directed Free Press coverage of the five-day July 1967 riot in Detroit. The staff won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in the category of general local reporting for its coverage.

At the New York Times, Mr. Wark worked on the National Desk, in the Washington Bureau, and as a news editor in New York, one of a group of senior editors who oversaw the paper’s content, display, and standards.

At the Inquirer in Philadelphia, he was associate managing editor for features from 1975 to 1987.  In that role, he directed several prize-winning projects and presided over the Features and Sports Departments.

“Tom was a key architect of the new Philadelphia Inquirer that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Eugene L. Roberts Jr., the paper’s former executive editor. “He was visionary, brilliantly deft in editing, inspirational to his staff, and dedicated to improving every facet of the paper.”

Mr. Wark’s work at the Inquirer, the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press proved him to be one of the nation’s finest journalists, Roberts said.

Arlene Notoro Morgan, who as a former assistant features editor worked closely with Mr. Wark, found him to be “one of the most supportive editors, especially if you were willing to take a risk to do something creative.”

“He had a great sense of humor and was a great storyteller,” she said. “As a woman in the newsroom – and in those early days there were not many of us – I felt he was a strong force in making sure that we were treated equally and with respect.  He taught me a lot about how to manage a staff.”

“But probably what I will remember the most was his devotion to Lois, his wife, who was a major editor dealing with national news and investigations. He was extremely proud of her and her contributions,” Morgan said.

Denise Cowie, a retired Inquirer gardening writer, recalled working with Mr. Wark when she was a news editor in Features. “He was very kind,” she said. “He couldn’t have been nicer to me.”

Born in Detroit, Mr. Wark grew up in Iowa and studied journalism at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He began his newspaper career as a sportswriter at the Clinton (Iowa) Herald, where he was serving as the managing editor when Derick Daniels recruited him to join the Free Press staff in 1963.

In retirement, Mr. Wark delighted in playing what he called “geezer-pro doubles,” teaming up with the tennis pro at Picacho Hills Country Club in Las Cruces to challenge any and all established tennis players of a certain age.

The Warks were active in many environmental causes, including lobbying for the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico and the setting aside of Bears Ears, a pair of mesas in San Juan County in southeastern Utah, as a national monument.

In the final months before his death, Mr. Wark completed a memoir of his father, Homer: My Father’s Odyssey, published in May as a paperback through

Besides his wife, Lois, Mr. Wark is survived by children John Wark, David Wark, Mark Wark, Steven Wark, Catherine Wark, Laura Wark Liu, and Patricia Wark DePetris, all by his former wife, Marie Herrity Wark, who also survives; and 17 grandchildren.

Plans for a memorial service were pending. His ashes will be scattered at a favorite mountain pass.

Donations in his memory may be made to Mesilla Valley Hospice, 299 Montana Ave., Las Cruces, N.M. 88005; or the Southwest Environmental Center, 275 Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, N.M. 88001; or any charity.

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