A Remembrance of Will Lissner

Eric Pace

[Reprinted from the New York Times, March 2000]

Will Lissner, a reporter for The New York Times from 1926 until he retired in 1976, died on Saturday in a nursing home in Dunedin, Fla. He was 91 and lived in Clearwater, Fla.

For many years, Mr. Lissner specialized in writing about economics, but his varied assignments as a reporter and rewrite man included Prohibition raids, tong wars in Chinatown and coverage of The Times itself. In 1935, he contributed to The Times's coverage of the death of Adolph S. Ochs, who was then its publisher -- unbylined, as was the practice at that time.

In 1969, Mr. Lissner prepared a confidential 138-page report for Turner Catledge, who was then a vice president of The Times, entitled "Arthur Hays Sulzberger and the Eastland Investigation." James O. Eastland was a senator from Mississippi whose subcommittee in the 1950's was investigating, among other things, the extent of Communist infiltration and influence that he believed existed at The Times. Mr. Lissner's report, intended for the paper's archives and its senior executives, largely recapitulated the ways in which the paper and Mr. Sulzberger -- then the publisher, and grandfather of the present one -- had responded to Mr. Eastland. It was also an account of Communist Party activity in the newspaper business in New York from the 1930's to 1950's.

In 1980, Harrison E. Salisbury, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter and later an editor at The Times, cited Mr. Lissner's report in his book Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and Its Times. Mr. Salisbury wrote: "When I was sent as correspondent to Moscow in January 1949, as the McCarthy tensions were building up," The Times's management "took pains to make certain that the dispatches of the new man from Moscow were carefully scrutinized by a veteran Times reporter, Will Lissner, a dedicated anti-Communist and Soviet economics specialist. Lissner was able to report no signs of Communist bias in the new man's report; quite the reverse."

Mr. Lissner, a native New Yorker, graduated from Stuyvesant High School and studied and taught at the New School for Social Research. He founded the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1941 and continued his ties to it after leaving The Times.

His 1929 marriage to Ellen Batters ended in divorce in 1971.

He is survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Burnham; two daughters, Claire Shepherd of Milwaukee and Ellen Benjamin of Dover, Mass.; 9 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.