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Thomas N. Schroth, Influential Washington Editor, Is Dead at 88

Published: August 4, 2009

Thomas N. Schroth, who helped expand and deepen political coverage of Washington as the editor of Congressional Quarterly and a founding editor of National Journal, died on July 23 at his home in Sedgwick, Me. He was 88.

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Thomas N. Schroth in an undated photograph.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his daughter Amy said.

Mr. Schroth (pronounced to rhyme with growth) led the editorial staff of Congressional Quarterly from 1955 to 1969. It was a formative time for the publication, founded 10 years earlier as an information service for newspapers by the publisher of The St. Petersburg Times, Nelson Poynter, and his wife, Henrietta. Under Mr. Schroth’s editorial guidance, it grew to a full-fledged journal documenting and analyzing Congress’s every move.

An advocate of strictly impartial reporting and clear, explanatory prose, Mr. Schroth was especially keen at spotting talent. Among those for whom Congressional Quarterly provided early reportorial experience were David S. Broder, Neal Peirce and Elizabeth Drew.

The company also moved into book publishing, and by 1969 had increased its annual revenue to $1.8 million, from $150,000 at Mr. Schroth’s arrival 14 years earlier, according to a Newsweek article at the time.

In 1969, after a long-simmering dispute with Mr. Poynter over Congressional Quarterly’s editorial direction, Mr. Schroth was fired. Almost immediately he announced a new publication, to cover the executive branch and general policymaking, National Journal.

“Tom kept pushing Poynter for more imaginative ways of doing things,” Mr. Peirce, the author and syndicated political columnist, said in a telephone interview Monday.

When Mr. Schroth was fired, he added, many employees of Congressional Quarterly, including himself, chose to go to work on the start-up of National Journal.

Thomas Nolan Schroth was born in Trenton on Dec. 21, 1920, the son of The Brooklyn Eagle’s publisher, Frank D. Schroth. Thomas graduated from Dartmouth and served in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He was a reporter for Time magazine and United Press before going to work for his father at The Eagle, then Brooklyn’s chief paper. He was its last managing editor, and his father the last publisher; The Eagle closed in March 1955, a result of a strike for higher wages by the Newspaper Guild.

Mr. Schroth’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Amy, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia Wiggins Schroth, and three other daughters: Valerie, of Westport, Conn.; Jennifer, of Brooklin, Me.; and Anne, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Schroth left Washington in 1972 and moved to Maine, where he became editor of a weekly paper, The Ellsworth American, and with his wife published Maine Life magazine. He also became involved in Democratic politics, eventually serving on the Maine State Democratic Committee.

“He was rigidly nonpartisan throughout his professional career,” his wife said. “Then suddenly he was elected selectman here, and it was like he was free.”

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