Richard Wightman, a reporter in the Washington bureau of Fairchild Publications and Women’s Wear Daily from 1963 to 1987, died Feb. 24. He was 85 and suffered from dementia.
With international trade as his beat, Wightman worked for Fairchild News Service, chronicling the liberalization of apparel and textile trade from its early days and over five presidencies, starting with Lyndon Johnson.
This story first appeared in the March 17, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
He also tackled other assignments of interest to WWD readers, as was the case at a 1966 White House news conference with President Johnson.
Amid reporters’ questions on Vietnam, high interest rates and an airline strike, Wightman asked about the White House pulling WWD’s credentials to cover presidential daughter Luci Baines Johnson’s wedding. The newspaper was being punished for running a sketch of the bride’s Priscilla of Boston wedding gown, which appeared on page one.
“Don’t you think, in light of this, that it rather goes against your own philosophy of press freedom?” Wightman asked LBJ, according to a transcript, which shows the President sidestepping comment.
A tall, slim man with silver gray hair and a clipped British accent, Wightman covered the intricacies of tariffs and quotas at a time when global trade was tightly controlled under the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade. He knew the ins and outs of duties often better than his sources, and was regularly the first interview granted by the latest occupant of the Office of the United States Trade Representative. He could be exacting, with a temper whose fuse would be lit by two of his bêtes noires: ignorance or incompetence.
“Dick was dogged, determined and badgered sources,” said former WWD reporter Jim Ostroff. “He will be remembered as a newspaperman from a time when such appellations meant a great deal.”
“I enjoyed going on assignments with him knowing it would not be a dull session,” said former bureau photographer Guy Delort, who took pictures quickly when around Wightman because the reporter could be pointed and prompt officials to end interviews. If Wightman felt a subject was being evasive or patronizing, “Dick would stand up, close his notebook and tell the interviewee that, ‘it was a waste of time for both of us,’” and they should call when ready to talk.
Former bureau chief Susan Watters remembered Wightman aspired to be an actor before becoming a journalist. “One of his favorite books was ‘Middlemarch,’” said Watters of the George Eliot novel.
Born in England, Richard James Wightman served in the British navy during World War II and worked as a journalist in Canada and Great Britain before moving to Washington. He became a U.S. citizen in 1986. An avid hiker, Wightman regularly trekked in the Alps and the Himalayas, and wrote freelance articles for several newspapers on trade and travel after he retired. There are no immediate survivors.