In his 38 years as a Newsday reporter, Manny Topol cultivated countless sources, covered high-profile crimes of passion and broke new ground in sports reporting by delving into legal and business issues.
A longtime Smithtown resident, Topol, 76, died Sunday at St. James Healthcare Center in St. James, where he was residing. The cause was complications from various medical issues, including diabetes and a stroke he suffered several years ago, said his daughter Robin Topol of Smithtown.
Topol had "an uncanny ability" to get all kinds of people, including suspected murderers and targets of investigations, to open up to him, said Howard Schneider, who came to Newsday about five years after Topol's arrival in 1964. Topol was "guileless and warmhearted," said Schneider, Newsday's editor in 2003-04 and now dean of Stony Brook University's journalism school. "People trusted him."
He covered the high-profile trial of school principal Howard Holder and teacher Lynnor Gershenson, both convicted of conspiring to murder Holder's wife, who was found dead of a chloroform overdose in August 1970. A decade later, after the couple had served their sentences and married, Topol interviewed them in their living room in the same North Valley Stream house where Holder's wife died.
Topol "cultivated the right people and sources, and could get information better than anyone else," said Ed Grilli of Merrick, press secretary for the Nassau County district attorney's office from the late 1970s through the 1990s. Topol "asked the tough questions and wrote the tough stories," he said.
By the early 1980s, Topol was assigned to develop a newsier sports beat, looking into issues such as drug use, labor negotiations and suspected corruption in professional boxing.
Back then, some journalists didn't "like the type of coverage that I do," he said in a 1989 interview with The Los Angeles Times. "They would like to see the good old days when we just wrote about games."
In many ways Topol's work permeated his family life, said Robin Topol, 50. Wherever he went, be it a jail or the Super Bowl, she said, people would say, "Oh, Manny Topol, I know you."
Her father emphasized that "your word was your word" and "integrity was everything," she said.
Topol was an avid Jets and Brooklyn Dodgers fan, said his daughter. Still, "Newsday was his hobby," she said. "As much as it was his work, that was his pleasure."
Born in 1935 in Buenos Aires, Topol moved with his parents to Brooklyn when he was about 2. A graduate of Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, where he worked on the school newspaper, Topol received a bachelor's in journalism from Long Island University, Brooklyn campus, and a master's in journalism from Syracuse University. While at LIU, he worked for The Associated Press.
He also worked for the Long Island Press, Patchogue Advance and a publishing firm where he wrote submarine manuals, his daughter said.
In June, Topol and his wife, the former Sydell Sohmer, a neighbor whom he met when he was 14, celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.
Other survivors are daughter Chari Topol-Allison of Mamaroneck and three grandchildren.
A service was held Tuesday at the I.J. Morris funeral chapel in Dix Hills and interment was in the New Montefiore Cemetery, West Babylon.