Pulitzer Prize winner and former Newsday Washington bureau chief Gaylord Shaw rose from his start as a 13-year-old sportswriter to cover some of the nation's most tumultuous times, from being the first to report Richard Nixon's resignation to documenting the Oklahoma City bombing in his beloved home state.
Through it all, Shaw retained the wit, grace, generosity and twang of a Southern gentleman, his loud "huh huh huh" laugh shaking his frame, even as multiple sclerosis took over.
He died Sunday in the Duncan, Oklahoma, home he built with his wife, Judy, after retiring from Newsday in 2002. The newsman was 73. Family members said doctors suspect Shaw died of a heart attack.
"Dad always tried to be unbiased," said his son, Randy, of Ramona, California. "He would have his opinion, but not many people knew them. It was just the facts and always the facts."
Over his half-century career, he worked for The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Times Herald and Newsday, where he started as Washington bureau chief in 1988.
Time after time, Shaw showed an acumen for spotting what would be important, his former colleagues said. While some considered billionaire Ross Perot a fringe candidate in the 1992 election, Shaw insisted the businessman should be covered -- and Perot stole votes from George H.W. Bush, who lost to Bill Clinton. When a municipal building in Oklahoma City was bombed 20 years ago, Shaw recognized it might be the nation's first major homegrown terrorism case and was almost on a plane before his editors knew it.
"He was a newsman and a gentleman," said Lonnie Isabel, who for a time was Newsday's national editor and Shaw's boss. "Gaylord was always thinking about the readers. We weren't all trying to fly out doing all kinds of fancy things when the meat-and-potato issues were so important."
Shaw is credited with breaking the news of President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
He rarely boasted about this and other scoops, said Jim Toedtman, who followed Shaw to head Newsday's Washington bureau.
"He was never very far from his roots and from the basic instincts of decency that he learned as a kid," Toedtman said.
Shaw grew up poor in El Reno, Oklahoma, the fifth of six children, his wife said. He was in middle school when he started covering high school sports for the El Reno American, she said. When he was 15, his mother died and he helped pay her hospital bills, she said.
He never got a college degree because while in school at 19, he started working as an AP reporter in Oklahoma.
He was 24 when the wire service sent him to Washington, D.C., where he would eventually cover the Supreme Court and several presidencies.
It was at the Los Angeles Times where Shaw -- nicknamed the "Mountain Man" because he covered 11 northwestern states from his Colorado base -- uncovered unsafe structural conditions at the nation's major dams.
Shaw won the 1978 Pulitzer for national reporting for that series, and the next year, dozens of people died in a dam failure, prompting President Jimmy Carter to order a national inspection of dams.
He married Judy, his high school sweetheart, in 1960, the year they graduated, and endeared himself to her family over the years.
Once, when he drove his mother-in-law on the long trip back home from a hospital, they listened to hymns on the radio but didn't know the words, his wife said. He stopped at a Baptist church and got a hymn book so his mother-in-law could sing along, Judy Shaw said.
In addition to his wife and son, Shaw is survived by daughters, Kristi Clark of Texas and Kelly Martin of Virginia, and a brother, Bob of Oklahoma.
Visiting hours are 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Don Grantham Funeral Home in Duncan. Services will be held 2 p.m. Friday at the First Christian Church in Duncan, followed by burial at Duncan Cemetery.