Washington newspaper mourns death of editor, Kulpmont native
Editor's note: The accompanying story was published Tuesday by the Washington Examiner about the death of Bob Kemper, who was born and raised in Kulpmont. He attended St. Mary's School in his hometown and was a 1978 graduate of Our Lady of Lourdes Regional High School, Coal Township. His mother, Lucy Kemper, lives at Maria Joseph Assisted Living, Danville, and his aunt, Pat Kemper, in Kulpmont.
The Washington Examiner staff lost a dear friend and colleague Saturday with the passing of Bob Kemper.
An Examiner assistant managing editor and a former Washington and White House correspondent for two major national newspapers, Kemper died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He was 53.
Those who worked with him knew him as a hard-working newsman from the old school, who covered the White House under two administrations as well as major national news events and helped train scores of young journalists as an editor at the Examiner.
They also recall him as a sincere friend, a good editor and a great wit.
Examiner editor Stephen G. Smith said Kemper's reporters and desk mates "will remember his deft line editing, his deep understanding of political Washington and his lively - and occasionally wicked - sense of humor."
Examiner White House correspondent Brian Hughes recalled him this way:
"Whether you were a friend, colleague or complete stranger, you could always count on Bob to deliver his greatest gift: laughter. As an editor, he had this unique way of making you smile even when eviscerating your copy. Seemingly infinite presidential debates really just turned into the late-night Kemper comedy hour - or hours. He was an equal opportunist and was capable of ribbing you without an ounce of nastiness. ...
Kemper reported on Washington and the White House for both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Chicago Tribune. He was one of the few journalists allowed to spend much of Sept. 12, 2001, with President George W. Bush, and he later authored a book on the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "Rubble: How the 9/11 Families Rebuilt Their Lives and Inspired America."
In less-heady periods, his missives for White House pool duty were the stuff of legend.
When he changed papers and jobs in 2004, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank dedicated a "White House Notebook" installment to Kemper's dispatches, calling him "the man who did for the White House pool report what Ernie Pyle did for war journalism and Walter Cronkite did for network news. With the departure of Kemper ... the nation has lost its foremost chronicler of White House tedium." ...
Asked by USA Today in 2001 to name the best part about regular visits to Crawford, Texas, outside Waco, where the new president had a ranch, Kemper replied, "all the free sweat."
Kemper joined the Examiner newspaper as an assistant managing editor in September 2010, overseeing its national and Virginia political coverage. Among his accomplishments as an editor was oversight of the paper's extensive probe into sweetheart deals and poor management by the agency overseeing the massive project to connect D.C.'s subway system with Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs. He stayed on with the Examiner when it converted from a local daily newspaper to its current all-politics format last June.
His friend and colleague Mike Hedges, former managing editor of the Examiner, recalled visiting with Kemper recently. "He loved recalling the times we'd broken big stories, and the times we'd had fun writing a headline and beating the competition. He took a lot of pride in the paper's aggressive local news coverage, and especially in the excellent work he'd coaxed out of a bunch of young reporters. ...
"His joy in producing the best paper we could each day inspired us all, and was a fundamental part of the Examiner newspaper's character. I was grateful to have him as a friend, and I'll truly miss him."
For two years before coming to the Examiner, Kemper was a freelance writer and editor, mainly for U.S. News and World Report and National Journal. He also was an adjunct professor at American University's communications school.
Before that, Kemper spent four years reporting for the AJC and three years working for the Tribune, coming to Washington after serving as a national correspondent in Chicago, writing about city, state and national campaigns. (At the Tribune, he recalled to Examiner colleagues, he had three separate phone numbers for three desks - one in the main newsroom downtown, one at his desk in the Tribune magazine offices on a different floor, and another at a bureau in the suburbs, "and my editor could never get me at any of them.")
A newsman who knew the purpose of pneumatic tubes and copy spikes in newsrooms of old, Kemper never took to Twitter (he did have a page on Facebook), but he would likely be amazed to see the many plaudits he has received from friends and colleagues there since his passing. Susan Page of USA Today called him "a smart, lively, funny journalist who has died too young." Yahoo's chief Washington correspondent Olivier Knox called him a "great reporter, generous friend, and easily the funniest person I have ever met."
Kemper's passing came as a shock to many. He suffered a major heart attack in the Examiner newsroom on Feb. 3 and spent much of the following month in the hospital. But in recent weeks, friends and colleagues thought he was making a strong recovery, undergoing cardiac rehab, exercising and spending time with his family. Just a couple of weeks before his passing, he told colleagues he hoped his doctors would soon give him a timetable for returning to work.
Bob Kemper grew up in Pennsylvania and was an alumnus of Juniata College there. He first made his name in Richmond, Va., where he covered the state capitol for the Newport News Daily Press before moving to Washington to cover the Pentagon and Congress.
A Kensington, Md., resident, he was a devoted father to his three children, sons Ryan and Jack and daughter, Grace. Survivors also include his mother, Lucy; siblings Richard Kemper and Karen Hirschi, and ex-wife Mary Kemper.
A funeral Mass was celebrated Thursday. Collins Funeral Home in Silver Spring is in charge of arrangements.