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Ex-Newsday reporter George DeWan dead, contributing writer in Long Island history series was 80

Former Newsday reporter George DeWan is shown in

Former Newsday reporter George DeWan is shown in this file image. Photo Credit: NEWSDAY / Bill Davis

George L. DeWan, who retired from Newsday in 2001 after 44 years of reporting on poverty, minority affairs, banking and, most notably, the history series "Long Island: Our Story," died Monday at age 80.

He was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in October and died at the Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice of Suffolk in Northport, said his wife, Mary. The couple lived in Huntington.

He was remembered by colleagues as a passionate and meticulous reporter, with a love of history and language. He wrote more than 60 stories in the 273-day Long Island history project, which ran from Sept. 1997 to June 1998, and spawned several books, a classroom curriculum, and other media projects.

"He was able to combine exhaustive research with the eye of a journalist, picking out telling anecdotes, the relevant details, that could bring a story to life," said Howard Schneider, founding dean of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University, and a longtime editor at Newsday.

Schneider said DeWan created the paper's Student Briefing Page to explain the Gulf War to students, and continued it because its clear explanations of current affairs made the page popular for both students and adults.

"George was one of the best writers I ever edited," said Harvey Aronson, DeWan's editor on the history project and now a teacher at Stony Brook's journalism program. "He was very particular about his words. If you changed them, you had to have a very, very good reason. He did have a historian's mind. He was fascinated by all that and he really was an expert."

In the series and in later stories about Long Island history, he wrote about such iconic figures as Theodore Roosevelt, and Walt Whitman. DeWan admired the poet and grew to resemble him as his own beard whitened, his family said.

In a December 1998 story on Loyalists fleeing Long Island after the Revolutionary War, DeWan demonstrated his use of detail to enliven portraits of long-gone Long Islanders: "On March 21, 1783, George Duncan Ludlow of Hempstead had a yard sale," he wrote. "Once a powerful figure under the British occupiers during the Revolutionary War -- he was then the Long Island superintendent of police -- Ludlow now wanted to get out of town as fast as possible, and he wasn't about to take any furniture with him." A Loyalist who bet on the losing side, Ludlow was not wanted around anymore. 'Public Auction,' read the newspaper advertisement, offering for sale at police headquarters in Jamaica, 'a quantity of household furniture, consisting of mahogany tables and chairs, beds and bedsteads, a very elegant eight-day clock, glass, china, earthen and pewter ware, and some plate, with a variety of kitchen utensils.' "

Born in Johnson City, New York, on Jan. 16, 1934, DeWan was the second youngest of nine children of James Landon and Caroline (Heffernan) DeWan.

DeWan and Mary, an attorney, celebrated their 50th anniversary in October. They met in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, where DeWan served from 1961 to 1963, his family said.

Upon returning to the United States, DeWan worked for the Corps in Washington, D.C., for two years before deciding to enter journalism. He joined Newsday in September 1967, armed with a new bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.

After he retired, DeWan, whose wife described him as a "natural teacher," taught briefly at Stony Brook. "He never stopped trying to learn and was always teaching," said his daughter, Amielle, of Carmel, New York.

He will be cremated and a memorial service will be held in the spring, his wife said. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice of Suffolk, she said.

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