A vivid storyteller who thrived on adventure, though not while covering the nation’s atomic bomb testing in the early 1950s, Phil Sanborne reported and edited for Newsday for more than four decades.
The longtime Northport resident’s love of family and friends shone through his writing, sometimes with deadpan irony, about competing in his first marathon or dealing with the theft of his wife’s purse while traveling abroad.
Sanborne died from pneumonia in Pittsburgh on Dec. 20, the family said. He was 88.
The atomic assignments arose after Sanborne joined Newsday; he was drafted into the Marines in 1951 and chronicled some of his experiences.
They include wry depictions of boot camp at Parris Island, where he learned to go thirsty unless instructed to drink.
Of a long, hot march punctuated by mock air raid drills, he wrote: “I never thought I would consider myself lucky, because I landed in some mud — but I did that day.”
At his second “atomic ‘baptism of fire’ ” in Yucca Flats, Nevada, Sanborne, by then a press aide and a sergeant, and his comrades wondered why they were only 4,000 yards away from the test site — almost twice as close as earlier tests.
“The siren blasts and we seem to try and dig our trenches just a little deeper,” he wrote.
After what he described as a million flashbulbs simultaneously exploding, he added: “We blink, we open our eyes in utter disbelief as everything around us loses its color completely. The brilliance fades and is replaced by the orange-amber glare of the rising fireball.”
Troops were on hand for the tests in part to condition them for nuclear warfare.
On another assignment, he tracked author Ernest Hemingway to the bar in Cuba he favored.
“That was another great joy of his career — meeting Hemingway and having him buy him a drink,” said a daughter, Lynn Sanborne of Pittsburgh.
Some of his writing was comical, including the time he rung a bell for the Salvation Army kettle in frigid holiday weather — collecting just $9.84.
After growing up in Great Neck, Sanborne graduated from Hofstra University in 1950.
He joined Newsday that year and retired 42 years later as assistant news editor.
Another career highlight was writing for Newsday publisher Bill Moyers, who became a leading figure in broadcast journalism. Her father prized the note Moyers sent after Sanborne won the George M. Estabrook Distinguished Service Award for Hofstra alums in the late 1970s, Lynn Sanborne said.
For family events, like a daughter’s wedding, Sanborne sometimes created mock Newsday stories, the daughter recalled.
“The biggest inspiration was just that he loved his job so much,” she said. “I feel like that was the biggest gift he gave his kids.”
David Zinman, who worked with Sanborne at Newsday in the 1960s, remembered his editor and former running companion as “a first-rate editor” and “prince of a guy.”
“In memory, he remains a special friend who made my days brighter,” Zinman said.
In addition to his daughter Lynn, survivors include his wife of 65 years, Billie; a daughter Sheryl Sanborne of Silver Spring, Maryland; sons, Mark of Pittsburgh and Jonathan of Manassas, Virginia; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
His remains were cremated.