Laurie Becklund, journalist, dies at 66

laurie-becklund-stanford.jpgFolks, a lot of you know Laurie Becklund and her work. The award-winning former staff writer at the Los Angeles Times died Sunday night at home in the Hollywood Hills. Her husband, UC Irvine School of Law professor Henry Weinstein, said she had just returned home from a lengthy hospital stay for treatment of the complications of metastatic breast cancer. Laurie was 66.

Laurie grew up in San Diego, graduated from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, studied at Universidad Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City, then spent 4½ years at the San Diego Tribune. When the LA Times expanded into San Diego with a daily section in 1978, the editors snapped her up. She covered the border and quickly became a star of the Times staff. She won the paper's internal awards in 1981 for coverage of dysfunction at the LA school board, and in 1982 for coverage of "coroner to the stars" Thomas Noguchi. She wrote deeply reported stories about the death squads in El Salvador in this era, and won another Times writing award for a 1988 feature about two survivors of the First Interstate Bank fire in downtown LA. Laurie won a fourth Times reporting award for her story, with Stephanie Chavez, about the beating of Reginald Denny at the start of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The story ran on the front page of the paper that won the Times a staff Pulitzer Prize for riot coverage. The lede:

At every watershed through time, it seems a face emerges to transfix a moment in history. In Vietnam, a naked girl fled napalm. In Tian An Men Square, a single student stared down a line of Chinese tanks. In Los Angeles last year, Rodney G. Lay prone and beaten. Now, a white gravel truck driver beaten nearly into oblivion in South Los Angeles has become the face on the flip side of the Rodney King coin, the unofficial black-on-white response to the official white-on-black beating.

Laurie took the first buyout offered to Times newsroom staff, in 1993. By then she had written two books. "Go Toward the Light,'' a memoir of a woman whose son died of AIDS stemming from an infected blood transfusion, became a CBS movie of the week. "Swoosh: The Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There,'' co-authored with her sister Julie Strasser (now Julie Dixon), was an insider story that has been taught in business school courses and was reviewed in the New York Times as "'Chariots of Fire' meets 'Animal House.''' After leaving The Times, Laurie co-authored "Between Two Worlds,'' the memoir of how global human rights leader Zainab Salbi came to terms with her secret childhood as the privileged daughter of Saddam Hussein's personal pilot, and "The Other Side of War: Women's Stories of Hope and Survival.''

She worked as an off-air reporter for CBS News on the O.J. Simpson case, and also wrote for the New Republic, California and other magazines. Laurie launched a non-profit called Associated Student Press designed to improve the quality of high school journalism and to increase the consciousness of news executives about the importance of fostering good journalism at an early age to help sustain the industry. In recent years, she devoted considerable energy to helping KMG, a non-profit in Ethiopia that has done ground-breaking work to reduce the incidence of female genital mutilation and worked with a coalition of neighborhood groups in the Hollywood area, fighting the Millennium development project.

At the time of her death, Laurie was a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communications at USC and a member of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.

In addition to Henry Weinstein, Laurie is survived by her mother Elizabeth Larsen, her sisters Nancy Spencer and Julie Dixon, her daughter Elizabeth Rose Becklund Weinstein and several nieces. Memorial service plans are pending.

Video: Laurie Becklund speaking at Stanford last September about being a breast cancer patient.

Photo: Laurie Becklund at Stanford.

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