ELLSWORTH, Maine (AP) -- James Russell Wiggins, former editor of The Washington Post who served briefly as ambassador to the United Nations, died Sunday at his home in eastern Maine. He was 96.
Wiggins had retired to Maine, where he continued to work at the weekly newspaper he owned from 1966 to 1991 until his declining health forced him to stop in July.
"Russell had a contagious enthusiasm for everything he encountered and read. He was an endless optimist about human nature, interested in everyone he met, whether young or old," said Alan Baker, a friend who had bought the Ellsworth American from Wiggins.
Defense Secretary William Cohen described Wiggins, his friend of 30 years, as "one of Maine's greatest assets."
"I greatly enjoyed our regular meetings and conversations over the years, though they invariably ended with Russ recommending three or four very thick books for me to read that he had thoroughly devoured and analyzed," Cohen said from Saudi Arabia.
Wiggins' newspaper career began in 1922 after he graduated from high school in Luverne, Minn. He started at his hometown paper, the Rock County Star, which he purchased at age 22.
Wiggins later worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, where he rose to managing editor, and served in the Army Air Corps Intelligence Division during World War II.
After a year as assistant to The New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Wiggins joined the Washington Post, where he spent 22 years and was named executive editor in 1955. He served as editor and executive vice president from 1960 and 1968.
Wiggins was the last editor to oversee both the newspaper's news and editorial departments. Benjamin Bradlee succeeded him in the news department and Philip Geyelin took over the editorial department.
"He cared about quality, and he had righteous indignation," said Katharine Graham, the former publisher of the Post and the current chairman of the executive committee of The Washington Post Co. "He edited the paper when it didn't have the resources it later did. He made it matter. He put it on the map."
In 1968, Wiggins retired from the Post and accepted an appointment as ambassador to the United Nations for the final months of President Lyndon Johnson's administration.
During his newspaper career, Wiggins headed the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Gridiron Club of Washington, among other national press organizations.
Looking ahead to his retirement, Wiggins bought the Ellsworth American in 1966, two years before taking over as editor and publisher of the weekly. He sold the paper in 1991 but continued to work there daily until health problems confined him to his home.
Wiggins married Mabel Preston in 1923, and they had four children. His wife died in 1990.
Wiggins is survived by a daughter, Patricia Schroth, 10 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
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