Jack E. Wilkinson, 84: Quiet demeanor spoke volumes

In a room full of harried, often loud and always on-deadline journalists, Jack E. Wilkinson stood out.

Wilkinson, a reporter and editor for United Press International who covered Jimmy Carter before he was president, and Jack Nicklaus before he was a golfing legend, did not fit the stereotype cast upon many male journalists.

“He was the quintessential cool, calm and dry guy,” said Paul Varian, a former UPI colleague, now a senior executive producer for CNN. “He was completely unflappable, never raised his voice, never got fidgety, he was solid as could be.”

Tracy Wilkinson described her father’s demeanor as “something you don’t expect” to find in the news business.

“He had a way about him that nurtured young journalists, and got the work done without ever raising his voice,” said his eldest daughter, who is a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, currently based in Mexico City.

Jack Edward Wilkinson, of Atlanta, died Wednesday from respiratory complications. He was 84. A memorial service was held Friday at Haygood Memorial United Methodist Church, Atlanta. H.M. Patterson, Spring Hill, was in charge of cremation arrangements.

Wilkinson’s career in journalism began while he served in the Navy, during the Korean War, writing and editing for military publications. After his naval service was complete, he went on to work for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. It was there at the paper met another journalist, the former Beverly Busby. The couple married in 1955 and raised two daughters — both of whom are in journalism. The Wilkinsons observed their 58th wedding anniversary the day he died.

A native of Texas, Wilkinson came to Atlanta in 1969, after working for UPI in several cities since 1955, including New York, where he was the national sports editor.

“He had an amazing diversity of skills,” Varian said. “He played with every tool in the sandbox, all the way up through the computer age.”

In more than 50 years of writing for UPI, Wilkinson covered all sorts of news, including the 1955 heart-attack of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and an airplane hijacking that pulled him away from the Thanksgiving dinner table one year. His work not only included writing for print, but for broadcast news as well. Wilkinson also drew cartoons and wrote movie reviews, “when renting a VHS was all the rage,” Varian said.

Though Wilkinson retired in 2005, he still wanted to write, so he freelanced for the wire service over the past seven years.

“Most recently he was doing an almanac-type thing, like ‘On this day in history,’” his daughter said. “His last piece was submitted the day before he went into the hospital.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Wilkinson is survived by a second daughter, Kelly Wilkinson of Indiana; and three granddaughters.

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