Richard Dudman had an informal motto: “Reporter who sits on hot story gets ass burned.” There was no risk of Dudman getting burned. He didn’t retire from journalism until 2012, when he was 94. And even then he continued to write an occasional story, including a 2015 remembrance of the Vietnam War.
The longtime newspaper man and passionate advocate for the betterment of the world and Maine passed away Thursday morning. He was 99.
After serving as a merchant mariner and in the Naval Reserve during World War II, he began his newspaper career at the Denver Post in 1945. The Colorado city, where he met his wife Helen, was too small, and Dudman wrote to the editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch asking for a job for more than a year. He joined that newspaper in 1949 and worked there for 31 years, becoming its chief Washington correspondent.
He covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra Scandal. On his last day as the paper’s Washington Bureau chief in 1981, he ran through the city streets to cover the shooting of President Ronald Reagan.
He and two other journalists were captured in Cambodia in 1970 while covering the Vietnam War. “If we get out of this alive, we’ll have one hell of a good story,” he told his fellow captives. He wrote of his experience in the book “40 Days With the Enemy.”
Dudman will be remembered for many things — his long journalism career, his unexpected role in JFK conspiracy theories, his captivity in Cambodia, his awards and place in the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame and on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list.
What is likely less apparent but no less important was his adaptation to whatever life threw at him, including growing old in Maine.
Journalists at the Bangor Daily News, where he was a senior contributing editor for the editorial page for 12 years, knew Dudman in the waning days of his journalism career. We knew a man who, in his 80s and 90s, was as excited about a scoop as a cub reporter and whose love of a great story never faded. He was ever eager to write about the latest government misstep or foolish regulation, especially of the lobster industry. He also wrote editorials encouraging congressional support of programs to help seniors, directing state officials to develop realistic alternatives to driving for seniors and supporting efforts to lower medical costs.
As a nonagenarian, Dudman was engaged in — and concerned about — his community and the world. This engagement kept his mind sharp and his fingers active at the keyboard.
He and Helen also accepted and accommodated aging. When they knew driving was no longer a good idea, which of course Dudman chronicled in a story for the BDN, they took the bus or hired a driver to ferry them to doctor’s appointments, lunch dates and board meetings in which they actively participated. “It makes sense to pay for service rather than buying more stuff,” he wrote in his characteristic straightforward style. Dudman, an avid sailor, also gave up his beloved Friendship sloop Freedom when he felt it was time.
They made changes to their beloved home in Ellsworth to keep it safe as they aged. They stayed in Maine year-round rather than retiring to a warmer climate, enjoying walks in Acadia National Park and spending summers at their cottage on Islesford.
Dudman did all this with humility, grace and penchant for bow ties. On his 95th birthday, his former Post-Dispatch colleague William Freivogel wrote in a 2013 tribute in Gateway Journalism Review: “So many reporters and editors get tired, burned out or cynical. Not Dudman. He never has lost his love for a big story or his intrepid pursuit of the truth in the face of danger.”