OPC Renames Commentary and Cartoon Awards; Honors Flora Lewis

Photo courtesy of Flora Lewis’ Family.

by Patricia Kranz

NEW YORK, December 17, 2018—The Overseas Press Club of America has named its award for best commentary on international news for Flora Lewis, a correspondent and columnist who won four OPC awards during her decades-long career.

“Much of her work, done when foreign policy was made by men who thought women had no place in the world of diplomacy, revealed deep knowledge of history inflected by the experience of living through some of the most turbulent events of an epochal century,” said her obituary in The New York Times, published on June 3, 2002. She was 79.

The obituary summarized her extraordinary career. She got her first job in 1942 with the Associated Press and over the years covered Europe and Latin American for American and European newspapers. In 1956, when her husband Sydney Gruson was The New York Times’s correspondent in Warsaw, she was hired by The Washington Post. The Times’s nepotism rules at the time barred her from being hired as long as her husband also worked there. “The rules, of course, essentially acted to stop women from becoming correspondents. It took decades for the paper to see the light,” said her son Lindsey Gruson.

Lewis later reported from Bonn, Eastern Europe and London for The Post and in 1965 was chosen to open the paper’s bureau in New York City. After her divorce, she joined The New York Times in 1972 as bureau chief in Paris and also became the paper’s European diplomatic correspondent. In 1980 she became the paper’s third foreign affairs correspondent.

She won the OPC’s award for Best Interpretation of Foreign Affairs in 1962 for The Washington Post and in 1976 and 1978 for The New York Times. In 1956, she won the OPC’s Best Magazine Reporting of Foreign Affairs for work in The New York Times Magazine.

“Foreign affairs reportage and commentary were her life,” said past OPC President David A. Andelman. “She knew everyone and everyone knew and admired her. She could parachute into the most remote capitals and within hours have tested the temperature, talked with just the right folks and turned out a perfectly crafted column. Her extraordinary legacy will live on admirably in this award.”

Gruson said his mother would have been delighted and grateful to have the award named after her. “We hope it will in some way spur other reporters to emulate her,” he said.

The OPC Board of Governors also has decided to make a change to the OPC’s award for best cartoons on international affairs. Since 1978, the award has been named for Thomas Nast, an influential American cartoonist in the 19th century. However, Nast’s legacy includes cartoons that exhibited an ugly bias against immigrants, the Irish and Catholics.

“The Board had a thoughtful and robust conversation regarding the issues brought to light regarding some of Thomas Nast’s editorial cartoons,” said OPC President Pancho Bernasconi. “Once we became aware of how some groups and ethnicities were portrayed in a manner that is not consistent with how journalists work and view their role today, we voted to remove his name from the award.”

The Overseas Press Club is an international association of journalists based in New York City that works to encourage the highest standards in journalism, to educate the next generation of foreign correspondents and to promote international press freedom and the well-being of colleagues in the field.