Robert Shaw, an AP bureau chief in 3 US states, dies

Jul 15, 2021, 4:02 PM | Updated: 6:50 pm

DALLAS (AP) — Robert Shaw, whose more than 40-year career with The Associated Press included leading news coverage in three states, has died. He was 79.

Shaw died Thursday in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville with family around him, his daughter, Erin Moore, said.

“He was very competent at his job, did it calmly, did it without fanfare and was widely respected both within the staff and outside the staff, among the members,” said former AP President Lou Boccardi.

Shaw was the AP bureau chief in Little Rock, Arkansas, when he retired in 2007. He covered everything from plane crashes to hurricanes to politics and entertainment during his career. Shaw was known as a perfectionist in his news coverage, as well as a leader focused on the wellbeing of his staff.

“He wanted to make sure everything was perfect, so he left no stone unturned,” said Lindel Hutson, a longtime friend and colleague.

Shaw, a native of Conway, Arkansas, began his journalism career at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. He joined the AP in St. Louis in 1965 and transferred to the Little Rock bureau the following year.

Robbie Shaw remembered his father talking about covering a civil rights march in the late 1960s in West Memphis, Arkansas, when he was attacked by people protesting the march.

“Dad was at a phone booth calling in his story, and they squirted lighter fluid on his pants and set his pants on fire,” he said.

Hutson said he was a college student working for the local newspaper in Jonesboro, Arkansas, when he first met Robert Shaw in 1968 while covering a tornado that killed more than 30 people.

“In those days, things were primitive. He still had to dictate back to the AP. And it was pretty incredible watching him in action because I’d never seen anybody who could work that fast,” Hutson said.

When Hutson was later hired by the AP, Shaw was one of the staffers who helped guide him.

Shaw was named correspondent in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1973 and in Jackson, Mississippi, two years later. While in Mississippi he covered the 1977 plane crash that killed three members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

He was promoted to bureau chief in Oklahoma City in 1984. During his time there, he directed coverage of the 1986 shooting at a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma, in which an employee killed 14 coworkers before killing himself.

In 1989, he was named bureau chief in Indianapolis. His staff covered the crash of American Eagle Flight 4184, which killed 68 people in 1994.

Hutson, who took over as bureau chief in Oklahoma after Shaw went to Indiana, said he found a bureau where everything was in order.

“I didn’t have to worry about walking into a bureau that needed help,” said Hutson, adding that Shaw “made some wonderful hires over the years.”

Shaw was named bureau chief in Little Rock in November 1996, just after Arkansas native Bill Clinton won his second presidential term.

Kelly P. Kissel, who was the news editor in Arkansas for over 20 years, said Shaw’s focus was on getting the story and also making sure his staff was holding up OK while covering grueling news events.

“It was the story and the storytellers first for him,” said Kissel, who is now metro editor at The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Moore said that in each state where her father worked, he made sure to fully embrace what made that place unique.

“He would just fully immerse himself in that,” she said. “In Indiana, he would go to the Colts games and he went to the Indianapolis 500.”

“Everybody loved my father. It didn’t matter where we went,” Moore said.

Shaw was a graduate of what is now the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. His wife of 54 years, Joyce Shaw, died in 2014.

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Robert Shaw, an AP bureau chief in 3 US states, dies