Robert Reno, a former Newsday columnist who championed social causes, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Saturday morning. He was 72.
"He was a business columnist with a real social conscience," said Rich Galant, an assistant managing editor for business at New York Newsday, which closed in 1995, where Reno was based for part of his career. In many ways, "he was ahead of his time," Galant said, because Reno touched on subjects from today's headlines, such as income inequality and health care reform.
In a November 2002 column on the latter, Reno wrote: "At a time when nothing seems to stand between President George W. Bush and soaring approval ratings, his one vulnerability may be a health care system on the verge of falling apart. It is the creeping menace that will not be forgiven if too many Americans find themselves without coverage and up the tree of life absent the resources to save themselves. The case for a health care crisis does not require overstatement."
He also took on major media figures. In an April 1991 column, Reno said he begged that "I shall never need to write as if I need to be invited out to dinner as badly as [conservative writer] George Will seems to," and that "My theory of being a newspaperman is that you've done your job if you always write so that hostesses imagine you'd break all their Limoges."
Tony Marro, who retired as Newsday editor in 2003, said of Reno: "He had such a nice, breezy, engaging style." Marro came to the newspaper in 1968, a month after Reno started as a reporter.
Reno was born Dec. 11, 1939, in Miami to Henry Reno, a Miami Herald police reporter, and Jane Wood Reno, a features writer for the Miami News. His grandfather had served as the Herald's head photographer.
Robert Reno created his first newspaper, handwritten, at 9. He reported on family and critter doings around the Reno homestead next to the Florida Everglades, said a sister, Maggy Reno Hurchalla, 71, of Stuart, Fla. Their 20 acres also was home to "a motley crew of animals," she said.
Reno drew on that childhood experience to dispel a family myth in a lighthearted introduction of one of his sisters, then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, at a 1994 newspaper editor event: "Janny never wrestled an alligator in her life," he said. "She froze them with a stare."
A graduate of Coral Gables High School and Tulane University, he served as a private first class in the Army, working on the Fort George G. Meade base newspaper in Maryland. While in college he worked part-time at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. After college, he worked at the Miami Herald.
Susan Harrigan, who sat next to Reno when she was a Newsday banking reporter, said the people he spoke of most often were his family, and his "daredevil" Yorkie, Teddy.
In a 1990 Mother's Day column, in which he touched on feminism as well as slang terms for women, he wrote, "If you called her a cow, my mother wouldn't whine and complain, she'd simply bust you in the chops. I am the progeny of lionesses, not twits, and all the women in my family are bossy as hell."
He would want to be remembered as a writer, though "he never bragged about it," and for his liberal views, said Hurchalla.
In addition to his sisters, survivors include a daughter, Janet Meliha, of Brooklyn; a brother, Mark, of Ocala, Fla., six nieces and nephews, and seven great-nieces and great-nephews. The family will have a celebration of his life at a date to be determined, Hurchalla said.
A collection of his columns can be viewed at newsday.com/columnists/robert-reno.