Charles Strum, Versatile Editor for The Times, Dies at 73
Whether overseeing the paper’s night operations, a regional bureau or the obituaries, he was known for his calmness under deadline pressure.,
Charles Strum, a longtime senior editor at The New York Times who earned a reputation for unflappability under deadline pressure in roles that included overseeing the paper’s nighttime news operations, its obituaries desk and its New Jersey bureau, died on Tuesday in Middlebury, Vt. He was 73.
His death, in the hospice suite of a nursing home, was caused by glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, his son, Alec, said. He lived nearby in Weybridge, Vt.
Mr. Strum, who was known as Chuck, had worked at three New York-area newspapers before arriving at The Times in 1979. Over the next 35 years, his positions included assistant metropolitan editor, New Jersey bureau chief, editor of the New Jersey weekly section, deputy national editor, obituaries editor and associate managing editor.
He was known as a deft editor who elevated reporters’ writing without imposing his will on it, leavened tense moments in a newsroom with his wry sense of humor and offered a calm voice to harried reporters in the field.
“When you hear the name Chuck Strum in the Times newsroom (or in D.C., where I work),” the Times domestic correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote on Facebook recently, “you know what follows is going to be the most thoughtful appraisal of your work, smart questions, and most of all an understanding of the importance of tone in a story.”
In 2007, as an associate managing editor, Mr. Strum answered readers’ online questions about his job. When asked about his responsibilities, he wrote in part:
“My mission, as I see it, is to look at the big picture. My deskmates, and other colleagues in various departments, are great at what they do; that is, I don’t need to do their jobs for them, or stand over them while they work. I tend to suggest, sometimes noodge. Sometimes noodge a little more. Less often, but certainly when I need to, I’ll insist that something be reworked or refined or, on rare occasions, even held out of the paper.”
Charles Laurence Strum was born on Jan. 28, 1948, in Manhattan to Emmanuel and Dorothy (Doloboff) Strum. His father was a lawyer, his mother a homemaker.
After graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in history, he started his newspaper career as a reporter for The Hudson Dispatch in Union City, N.J.
He left The Dispatch after a year to join The Record of Bergen County, N.J., where he was a reporter and editor until 1976. At his next stop, Newsday, on Long Island, he was an assistant news editor until 1979. He was hired by The Times that year as a copy editor.
“He loved writing but grew to love editing and supporting reporters,” his wife, Rebecca Strum, said by phone. “He was at a place with many giant egos, and he didn’t have one.”
Mr. Strum collaborated with five Times reporters on the book “Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax” (1990), about the 1987 case in which a Black teenager claimed to have been kidnapped, gang-raped and further defiled by white racists. Mr. Strum acted as the internal editor for the book, which was reported by Robert D. McFadden, Ralph Blumenthal, E.R. Shipp, M.A. Farber and Craig Wolff and written by Mr. McFadden.
After his stint as New Jersey bureau chief, Mr. Strum continued to write for The Times occasionally, often flashing his characteristic wit. One article, in 2000, was about taking a French immersion class.
“Mercifully, this was not like high school, where teenagers wince from embarrassment,” he wrote. “I felt no trace of the angst of my sophomore year, when my teacher — a humorless woman who looked like Howdy Doody with a gray wig and spoke French with an Indiana twang — aimed her intolerance up and down the rows like a machine-gunner.”
He married Rebecca Ware, known as Becky, in 1970. In addition to her and their son, he is survived by their daughter, Kate Strum, as well as twin daughters, Sara and Mary Lee Kenney, from a relationship with Nancy Kenney, a former Times staff editor.
After retiring from The Times in 2014, Mr. Strum worked for three years as an editor at The Marshall Project, the nonprofit journalism site that covers criminal justice.
“Some editors edited stories; Chuck edited writers,” said Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The Times who was The Marshall Project’s founding editor in chief. “He made them better. At the start, being a start-up, we had some writers who had more promise than practice. Chuck didn’t just fix their stories, he helped them grow.”