On deadline, Dennis Hevesi shined.
Regardless of the crisis or controversy, Hevesi had a unique talent for putting a breaking news story together, swiftly and accurately. His skills helped a group of Newsday staffers win a 1984 Pulitzer Prize.
Hevesi died Tuesday of cardiovascular problems at his Flushing home. He was 73.
Hevesi worked for many years at both Newsday and later The New York Times as a rewrite reporter, composing news stories with information from reporters outside the newsroom.
“He loved that process — of getting information from a number of people — and putting it all together into a seamless story,” recalled his wife, Carol Mooney-Hevesi.
At Newsday, he was part of a team of reporters who shared in a 1984 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the “Baby Jane Doe” case — the heart-rending court battle of a Long Island couple and their child with congenital defects.
Born at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, Hevesi graduated from Forest Hills High School and attended Hofstra University, where he edited the college newspaper. In summer 1965 while still at Hofstra, Hevesi took a job as a Newsday news desk assistant — then called a copy boy — which eventually led to a full-time job as a reporter.
In 1986, Hevesi joined the staff of The New York Times, working first as a rewrite journalist and later covering Brooklyn, real estate and obituaries. He retired in 2013.
From the start, Hevesi’s writing skills and gentle humor were on display. His first bylined Newsday article in September 1965 was about an Old Westbury woman vying to become president of the New York State Button Society, a group of hobbyists who collect buttons.
“Buttonectomy is to buttons as philately is to stamps, or numismatics to coins,” Hevesi explained with whimsy.
But Hevesi also wrote plenty of serious stories on deadline, often under great pressure.
At Newsday, Hevesi was part of a group of 12 reporters who worked on the Baby Jane Doe case. The paper followed the extensive legal dispute of a young Suffolk County couple who decided against surgery for their infant who suffered from a number of birth disorders, and the federal government’s questioning the parents’ right to make such a decision. In giving the award for local, general or spot news reporting, the Pulitzer Prize Board applauded Newsday’s “enterprising and comprehensive coverage.”
Hevesi’s rewrite skills were called upon to put together deadline stories about the controversial case. In one daily dispatch filed with reporter Kathleen Kerr in October 1983, Hevesi summarized the tense drama:
“After long hours of conferences and medical testimony, a State Supreme Court justice was in his chambers late last night, weighing the fate of Baby Jane Doe, the infant born with numerous and severe birth defects nine days ago in a Port Jefferson hospital.”
Hevesi also could write with grace. Brooklyn College journalism professor Paul Moses recalled a series of well-drawn profiles of homeless people that appeared in the New York edition of Newsday.
“They were written almost like poetry,” recalled Moses, who then worked for Newsday in Manhattan. “It was an amazing piece of work. He could really write well.”
On Facebook this week, colleagues from Newsday and The New York Times remembered Hevesi, including his zest for riding the streets of Queens on his bicycle. In recalling his career, Hevesi’s wife Carol said that the series of homeless profiles was among her husband’s favorite work. “He cared a great deal about people and what we now call social justice,” she said. The couple wed in 1983.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a brother Alan G. Hevesi, a former state assemblyman and city and state comptroller; and a son and daughter, who asked not to be identified.
A funeral service was held Friday at Schwartz Brothers-Jeffer Memorial Chapel in Forest Hills. Interment is private.