Seymour Topping, a long-time International Press Institute (IPI) member and former senior New York Times editor, passed away on November 8. He was 98.
Topping, whose illustrious career included covering the 1949 civil war in China and interviewing numerous world leaders, had suffered a stroke in October.
“Seymour Topping was ever hardworking, meticulous, thorough, kind and thoughtful – a paradigm of our profession”, said John Daniszewski, AP vice president for standards, editor-at-large and the IPI Executive Board’s special representative for safety of journalists. “Even well into his 90s, he took an active interest in IPI affairs and the challenges facing the free press everywhere.
“I had the pleasure of meeting him in his home a year ago, accompanying two (now elderly) Chinese children of his long-ago AP colleague in Nanjing who was executed by the Chinese Communists in 1951. What a touching scene to be at that reunion – the Chinese visitors were meeting the last living link to a father they had barely ever known. Top was courtly and attentive to them, with his wife Audrey pulling out old photos and clips of their days in China. Reading his accounts of his years as a foreign correspondent, I could only think what a true pro he was. He will be missed”.
During his long years in journalism as a freelancer and then with the Associated Press and The New York Times, Topping worked as a foreign correspondent covering the post-war aftermath in China, the Cold War in Europe and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
While covering the revolution in China in 1949, Topping, then an AP reporter, was detained by the Communist-led People’s Liberation Army when he to tried to reach Mao Zedong for an interview. He was released two days later after the Communists took over the reins defeating the nationalists. In Moscow, he found out that he was under surveillance when a blub exploded just over the bed and revealed a listening device.
In 1971, Topping interviewed then-Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and later the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Romanian Prime Minister President Nicolae Ceausescu, Golda Meir of Israel, the shah of Iran, Jordan’s King Hussein, and many others.
Topping was the first American correspondent in Vietnam after WWII and covered the war between French colonialists and Communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. He also reported on America’s military operations in Laos and Cambodia as the Southeast Asia bureau chief.
After spending 34 years with the New York Times, in 1993 Topping gave up his position as the director of editorial development for the 32 regional newspapers of the group to teach journalism at Columbia University. He was also an administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, supervising the selection of jurors.