A driving force for journalistic excellence and newsroom equality

Send by email

Posted Nov. 29, 2004

By Steven Chin

The Maynard Institute mourns the passing of its founding board member Roy Aarons. Aarons, who had been battling cancer, died Sunday night of heart failure at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was 70 years old.

"Roy was a visionary and a guiding force at the institute from its inception," said Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute. "A few weeks ago, Roy and I were talking about my plans for the institute and he not only came up with a name - the New Century project - but with a marketing plan.

"Of course, Roy was so much more than a founding board member," added Maynard. "He and my father were life-long friends and I can't remember a time in my life that Roy was not a part of my family.

Aarons was also founding president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which since 1990 has had a significant impact on how mainstream media cover gay issues and relate to their gay and lesbian employees.

Aarons was a journalist, editor, author and playwright whose assignments had taken him around the globe. He covered events of the 1960s and 1970s as chief of The Washington Post's New York and West Coast bureaus. In 1982, he spent a year in Israel, covering among other things the Israel-Lebanon war as a freelancer for Time magazine.

Most recently, he was a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications where he taught courses on gay issues and the media. Aarons was also supervising research on press coverage of gay and lesbian issues as director of a new program within Annenberg's Journalism Department.

While reporting in New York for The Washington Postin the 1960s, Leroy Aarons met fellow Post reporter Robert C. Maynard, one of the newspaper's few black news people during that time. Aarons and Maynard became friends, working together to cover the race riots in Newark, N.J.

In 1972, at Maynard's urging, Aarons joined the faculty of the summer program for minority journalists, an 11-week training camp held at Columbia University often culminating with job placement.

After losing funding two years later, Aarons was among a group of ad hoc faculty members who banded together and reinstituted the program at the University of California at Berkeley in 1976. Renamed the Summer Program for Minority Journalists, the program was widely copied as a training model.

In 1983, Maynard purchased the Oakland Tribune and brought Aarons on staff as the features editor. He would later be named executive editor, then senior vice president. Together, Maynard and Aarons built an editorial staff that many claim was the most diverse in the country.

In 1989, the Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for photographic coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Two years later, Aarons left the Tribune to pursue various writing projects: "Prayers for Bobby," a book about the suicide of a young gay man; a libretto for an opera about the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and a radio play about the Pentagon Papers that aired on National Public Radio.

Aarons lived with his partner of 24 years, Joshua Boneh, in Sebastopol, Calif. He is also survived by a brother, Ronald Aarons of Boulder, Colo.