Hugh McDiarmid

Hugh McDiarmid

Hugh McDiarmid

columnist, Detroit Free Press

Nobody could end a ruthless just-before-deadline phone call with a belly laugh like Hugh McDiarmid.

As a political columnist for the Detroit Free Press, he dug out the brightest moments and most embarrassing tales that made readers look for his signature wonder and wit three days per week.

But they also read for his sense of right and wrong that led to crusades on “lifer” policies for drug offenders, environmental health and gun laws.

“He feared no one, but I never saw him treat anyone without professional civility and, in tense moments, with humor,” wrote Free Press Lansing Bureau Chief Chris Christoff.

Despite storied battles with some legislators and lobbyists in the inches of his column, McDiarmid was an authoritative and respected voice in state politics.

“Not only was he perceived to have an acute political sense but also an enlightened and often courageous approach to the issues of the day,” Gov. William G. Milliken wrote.

McDiarmid’s good-natured bullying and prying at the Dayton Journal Herald and The Washington Post only foreshadowed what was to come when he worked as the Free Press’ Lansing Bureau Chief in 1975, and then as a political columnist in 1984. “The real McDiarmid, the funny, savvy, infuriating, insightful, butt-kicking columnist who stirred the pot, deflated pomposity, ridiculed the ridiculous and championed any number of worthy causes,” former Free Press Executive Editor Bob McGruder once wrote.

The digging and detail work showed in each interview and the pieces he produced. Young reporters learned satire, humor and dignity from the dean of state capital reporters and emulated his style.

“It would be difficult to meet a journalist more in love with his craft – or one more willing to so generously coach a young person on its finer and broader points,” wrote Susan Goldberg, executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News.