Obituary: Paul Whitefield

Paul Whitefield
Paul Whitefield

Paul Whitefield, a veteran editor at the Los Angeles Times who helped guide coverage of many of the paper’s major stories during his 30-year career, died at home Aug. 14 after a five-year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 66.
A longtime resident of La Cañada Flintridge, he is survived by his wife, Sara Lessley, and two sons, Sam and Ben Whitefield, both of whom grew up in LCF and attended local public schools.
Paul was a familiar figure around LCF for many years, supporting his sons’ athletic careers in baseball and water polo. He was an avid fly fisherman, scratch golfer, huge car buff and devoted Dodgers fan and season ticket-holder for many years.
Other than spending time with his family, his favorite weekends were devoted to fishing the Eastern Sierra with his brother Dave, particularly Hot Creek and Lake Mary in Mammoth Lakes.
At the Times, he oversaw copy editing and page design of some of the major stories of the day: most notably the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He played a key role in the paper’s coverage as a news and copy editor on the foreign desk and also on its weekly World Report section, which closely examined the tumultuous changes in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in the early 1990s.
Colleagues at the paper remember him for his professionalism during massive section “tear-ups” late in the evening, prompted by major late-breaking news.
“He was truly unflappable in dealing with breaking news on tough deadlines,” said former colleague Jon Thurber. “That notion may seem quaint in the pre-digital era but it’s really true. He was a very good editor, very smart about news and, of course, didn’t take himself too seriously.”
One of Paul’s most significant roles was as executive news editor of the paper’s national edition, a special compilation of political stories curated for Washington power brokers. The edition was delivered five days a week, landing on desks from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
John Paul Whitefield was born July 13, 1953, in Ranger, Texas, to Jane and Charles Whitefield, a war hero who flew 74 missions over Germany during World War II. Charles Whitefield was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other honors, for fighter missions on the P-47 Thunderbolt, which helped turn the air war over Europe.
Jane Whitefield was a corporal in the Women’s Army Corp, and was reportedly in Paris the week after it was liberated. His parents’ contributions to their country triggered in Paul a love of military history that he in turn shared with his sons on annual family road trips to battlefields and national monuments across the U.S.
After the war, Charles Whitefield became a pipeline welder, and the family — five children in all — moved frequently to follow the work, across Texas, Utah, Colorado, Minnesota and Nebraska.
Paul graduated from high school in Fremont, Nebraska, and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1975. He then obtained a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Hawaii and began work on a Ph.D. there, with the goal of eventually teaching.
He and his first wife, Debbie, moved to Pasadena in 1980, and Whitefield joined the Times’ business section after a stint at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook.
At the time of his retirement in 2015, he oversaw copy editing and production of the Times’ op-ed pages and was a frequent contributor of online humor pieces.
He is survived by his wife, Sara; sons Sam and Ben; a brother, Charles David Whitefield of Carson City, Nevada; and sisters Kay Louise Story of San Antonio and Karol Ann Michelsen of Canadian, Texas. Another brother, Joe, died in a car crash in 1983.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the National Parks Foundation; the Poynter Institute; Pro Publica, an investigative journalism website; or CalMatters, a nonprofit group that tracks state policy issues.
A celebration of his life will be held Sunday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m. at Cabot & Sons chapel, 27 Chestnut St. in Pasadena.

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