JFK death reporter Tom Wicker dies at 85

image captionTom Wicker was born in a small town in North Carolina and became a legend of US journalism

A New York Times journalist who witnessed and chronicled the death of US President John F Kennedy has died of a heart attack at the age of 85.

Tom Wicker was the only Times reporter in the Kennedy motorcade when the president was shot in the head in Dallas in November 1963.

His reporting won him wide acclaim and led to roles as Washington bureau chief and a long-serving political columnist.

Wicker died at home in Rochester, Vermont, on Friday, his wife said.

"He'd been ill with things that come from being 85," Pamela Wicker said.

"He died in his bedroom looking out at the countryside that he loved."

Detailed account

Tom Wicker was a well-regarded Washington reporter for the New York Times, but not a household name, before his journey shadowing President Kennedy in Dallas.

His lengthy report to Times readers the next day filled more than two pages of the newspaper.

He used precise, fact-heavy sentences to relay the news of the president's death to a nation in shock

Despite television coverage of the events the previous night, Wicker's reporting was the most detailed account many Americans were to receive of the events.

"President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today," he wrote.

"He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet that was fired at him as he was riding through downtown Dallas in a motorcade."

Changing society

Gay Telese, author of a history of the New York Times, told the Associated Press: "It was a remarkable achievement in reporting and writing, in collecting facts out of confusion, in reconstructing the most deranged day in his life, the despair and bitterness and disbelief, and then getting on a telephone to New York and dictating the story in a voice that only rarely cracked with emotion."

In the years after the Kennedy assassination Wicker served as Washington bureau chief, succeeding the legendary James Reston in that post.

In 1966 he began writing a political column, In The Nation, which ran continuously until his retirement in 1991.

His move into the opinion pages coincided with major shifts in US society and upheaval in American foreign policy. He was regularly critical of US policy in Vietnam.

He also published 20 books, from novels about life in the South to reflections on the presidents he knew.

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