Arthur G. Perfall, a former Newsday managing editor who helped win the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for a series on local corruption and guided the newspaper during its formative years, died Jan. 25 of pneumonia.
Perfall, who died in a Fairfax, Virginia, hospital, was 89.
Working out of Newsday’s then-Suffolk office in Ronkonkoma, Perfall oversaw many stories produced by Newsday’s investigative reporter Robert W. Greene and several others who became part of a team looking into secret land deals, primarily in Islip and Brookhaven. The three-year probe led to criminal convictions and resignations of public and political officeholders. It earned Newsday the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
“He had a swashbuckling aspect to his personality with a hearty laugh,” recalled James M. Klurfeld, a former Newsday editorial page editor who was then a young reporter on that team.
“He had a lot of integrity,” recalled Anthony Insolia, a former Newsday editor, who worked closely with Perfall during those years. “Art was a very accomplished editor who had been a reporter and knew the business.” Insolia said that Perfall was excellent at getting the most out of talented reporters during this era when Newsday was coming into its own as a respected regional newspaper.
Born in Richmond Hill, Queens, Perfall put his education on hold to join the Navy at age 17 near the end of World War II. He served from 1944 to 1946 in the Pacific as a storekeeper third class before returning home to finish high school and graduate from Hofstra University in 1951. He wrote for the college paper and developed a lifelong affinity for journalism.
“He always loved the written word,” said his daughter Alison Denman of El Segundo, California. “Although he later had jobs in different fields, he loved being a newspaperman. He was in his glory.”
Perfall worked for The Long Island Press, then a daily, before joining Newsday in 1954. During his 18-year career at Newsday, Perfall helped bridge various generations of staffers as the suburban newspaper grew in size and ambition, said former Newsday editor and Stony Brook University School of Journalism Dean Howard Schneider.
“He was an important leader in Newsday’s editorial history,” said Schneider, recalling the 1970 Pulitzer-winning investigation. “They were landmark stories.” With that complex probe, Newsday pioneered the idea of team investigative reporting, a task traditionally done by lone-wolf reporters. The team approach was adopted by other papers around the nation.
After the success of that series, Perfall became a managing editor, part of a troika that included Insolia and another co-managing editor, Lou Schwartz. But Perfall differed with Newsday’s then-executive editor David Laventhol and left Newsday in 1972. “As they like to say in the corporate suites, it was a matter of chemistry,” Perfall explained to author Robert F. Keeler in his 1990 history of Newsday.
Perfall then worked as a marketing and communications executive for two banks and later as assistant director of public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He also served as Long Island regional chairman for the National Alliance of Businessmen and was an adjunct associate professor of journalism at what is now LIU Post Long Island University in Brookville. He retired in 1988 to Bayonet Point, Florida, until he moved to Virginia as his health declined.
He is also survived by another daughter, Faye Henris of Fairfax, Virginia; a son, Clay, of Alexandria, Virginia; three stepdaughters, Kathleen Kennybrook of Winter Park, Florida, and Karen Pope and Kristine Eckhardt, both of Orlando; and 12 grandchildren.
A memorial service and an inurnment are being planned for this spring at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.