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Obituary: Vermont Royster

Vermont Connecticut Royster, who was born in North Carolina and lived most of his life in New York, was one of the most distinguished and unflagging journalists produced in America this century.

He began his career as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal in 1936 and ended it, with the same newspaper, in 1986. During that period the Journal's circulation increased from 35,000 to near 2 million. The years when he was its editor, from 1958 to 1971, saw spectacularly rapid growth.

Those who survive him at the Journal remember him best for a column he wrote during the last 15 years of his professional life under the title "Thinking Things Over".

A student in his youth of Latin and Greek, unfailingly right-wing but never shrill, Royster wrote in the ponderous, sententious cadences of the Victorian school. Today much of his writing would be considered stuffy and a shade politically improper.

"The smartest thing I did as a young man," he confessed in one of his columns, "was to take to wife a secretary in the State Department." Upon having his pocket picked, he observed: "If some of the economic theories bruited about today are correct, it could be argued that the nation's economy had been helped thereby."

Gentle in tone, rigorous in thought, he would range in his columns beyond the issues of the day to examinations of evil and man's relationship with God. On "The Legacy of Lu-ther", he opined: "Once a man could assert he could think for himself about God, there was no way thereafter to silence other minds with other questions."

His writings won him two Pulitzer prizes, in 1953 and in 1984. In 1986 President Reagan awarded him the closest equivalent America has to a knighthood, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Royster, the president said, had a common sense that "exploded the pretensions of 'expert opinion', and his compelling eloquence warned of the evils of a society loosed from its moorings of faith".

"Philosophically," the Wall Street Journal wrote in an appreciation on Tuesday, "he was an optimistic pessimist, as in his memorable line about how comforting it was that 'the Dark Ages lasted only 500 years'."

In person he was a gentle conversationalist, patient with his colleagues, ever willing to help. "To his teaching talent, like the grace of his prose, succeeding editors can only aspire," the Journal wrote. "His nearly 40 years of commentary established standards and traditions from which his successors profit daily."

Vermont Connecticut Royster, journalist: born Raleigh, North Carolina 30 April 1914; Editor, Wall Street Journal 1958-71; married 1937 Frances Claypole (two daughters); died Raleigh, North Carolina 22 July 1996.