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Saul Friedman, ex-Newsday columnist, dies

Saul Friedman, who was Newsday's "Gray Matters" columnist,

Saul Friedman, who was Newsday's "Gray Matters" columnist, seen in Washington, D.C., in 2006, died Dec. 24, 2010. Credit: AP File

During a journalism career that lasted more than five decades, Saul Friedman earned a reputation as a tough reporter who battled public officials and his editors with equal ferocity.

He brought that zeal to the "Gray Matters" columns he wrote late in his career, first for Newsday and more recently for an online blog. In the weekly column, which appeared for 13 years in Newsday, the longtime Washington correspondent wrote about Medicaid, the insurance industry, proposals to privatize Social Security and other issues for seniors.

Friedman, who covered seven presidents for Newsday and other publications, died Friday from stomach cancer at his Edgewater, Md., home. He was 81.

"He was a passionate advocate for seniors," said former Newsday Act 2 editor Ron Roel. "He was ahead of his time in seeing the need for seniors to have an advocate. . . . You may not have agreed with his politics, but you didn't question his dedication."

Despite failing health, Friedman bought an orange sports car last month and drove to New York with his wife of 59 years, Evelyn, to see a show, said their daughter, Lise Friedman Spiegel, of Los Angeles. "He was one of a kind. He lived life very large," she said. "He always believed in doing the right thing for people who needed to be represented."

Born March 4, 1929, and raised in Brooklyn, Friedman went on to cover the civil rights movement, wars in India and Israel, the American antiwar movement and consumer activist Ralph Nader for the Houston Chronicle, Knight-Ridder news service and the Detroit Free Press. He shared a 1967 Pulitzer Prize for the Free Press coverage of riots in Detroit. After joining Newsday's Washington bureau in 1985, Friedman covered the State Department and Congress during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"I remember him being the toughest son of a gun that I ever met," said former Newsday national editor Lonnie Isabel, who recalled being intimidated by Friedman "because he was so smart." "But he was also one of the nicest guys," Isabel said.

After retiring from Newsday in 1995, Friedman taught journalism in post-apartheid South Africa, then launched "Gray Matters."

In November 2009, Friedman moved the column to a blog, time His last column, titled "Small Miracles" and published Dec. 18, was a rumination on his recent health problems, including a stroke suffered several years ago.

Besides his wife and daughter Lise, Friedman is survived by another daughter, Leslie Kriewald of Crownsville, Md.; a sister, Esta Zucker of San Antonio; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A funeral service was held yesterday at Hardesty Funeral Home in Annapolis, Md. Friedman's body was cremated.

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