Longtime Maine Journalist and Broadcaster Mal Leary Has Died
From Portland Press Herald:
Mal Leary, a longtime political journalist whose dedicated coverage of Maine’s lawmakers earned him the nickname “Dean of the State House,” died Saturday, his wife said. He was 72.
Leary was known for asking tough but fair questions of the state’s most powerful people.
Leary, of Augusta, had been hospitalized with diabetes and heart complications. He died about six hours after being moved to hospice care, said his wife, Susan Leary.
Leary covered state politics for decades, reporting for newspapers, radio and TV, and also ran his own news service. Generations of Mainers can easily identify his no-nonsense style of reporting. He retired in 2021 after a 45-year career.
Leary grew up in the town of Veazie, near Bangor, and was a political science major at the University of Maine. He started his career in the mid-1970s as a print reporter for the United Press International wire service.
In 1983, he started the Capitol News Service, providing state government news to newspapers and radio stations across the state, including Maine Public’s radio stations. He became Maine Public’s state house bureau chief in 1995, then left in 2000 to run his Capitol News Service again until 2012, when he returned to Maine Public as the managing editor of the TV network’s “Capitol Connection” political coverage and covered politics for the radio network.
“He brought a lot of work home with him,” Susan Leary said. “During the legislative session he wasn’t home a whole lot, just long enough to change and fall into bed. He was honest. He had high standards and extremely strong morals”.
Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree released statements, praising Leary following news of his death.
“Mal was a legend in Maine’s press corps, always chasing the details and stories behind the bills moving through the state house and Congress,” Pingree wrote in a Facebook post. “He knew the history of Maine politics as few ever have or ever will. He was also a talented outdoorsman who climbed Katahdin’s terrifying Knife Edge Trail dozens of times. His beloved wife, children, and former colleagues are in my thoughts. As one of the best-known voices on Maine’s airwaves, Mal will be missed by all his long-time listeners.”
In her statement, Mills said Leary’s knowledge of the State House was second to none.
“For nearly 50 years, the so-called Dean of the State House press corps utilized his unparalleled grasp of policy, procedure, and personalities to inform and help Maine people understand what was happening in Augusta and Washington, D.C. Mal earned the respect and admiration of readers, listeners, fellow journalists and politicians of all stripes for his tough but fair questions, his balanced reporting and his unrivaled institutional knowledge.”
Susan Sharon, deputy news director for Maine Public, recalled how Leary helped her when she was a new State House reporter.
“Mal Leary was my mentor,” Sharon said. “I came to the State House in 1992, and I knew nothing about legislative process. I knew nothing about state government. I was just thrown into it. I had the great fortune of working side by side with Mal.”
Trying to understand the State House beat, she asked Leary questions “all day long,” and despite his gruff exterior, “he was incredibly patient with me and other people,” Sharon said. “He gave his time to talk to inexperienced or younger reporters about the legislative process, politics. He was just a wealth of information.”
Sharon recalled how everyone from lobbyists to lawmakers “beat a path to his desk” to question Leary about Maine government and politics.
“They liked to run things past him. He’d interview them, they’d ask him questions, because he was such a fount of information around so many things, especially the budget,” Sharon said.
He’d record and be well versed in congressional hearings, judiciary hearings and legislative hearings seemingly at the same time, she said. “The guy had an ability to multitask like I’ve never seen.”
The title of Dean of the Press Corps may not be handed down to anyone else, Sharon added. “There’s not many keepers of the history like when Mal was there.”
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King also released statements Sunday reacting to Leary’s death.
“Leary gave 45 years “of distinguished service to journalism. He kept the people of Maine informed and helped them to be engaged citizens,” Collins said in a statement.
She recalled sitting with Leary for countless interviews over the years.
“His questions were tough, but always fair. His preparation was thorough, demonstrating an unparalleled understanding of the issues.”
King called Leary “a reporter’s reporter: tough, honest, and fair.”
“Maine has lost a great journalist; I’ve lost a friend,” he said on his Facebook page.
Susan Leary said her husband was adopted at a young age and always considered his adoptive parents as his parents. He went to Orono High School before attending UMaine.
The couple met when Mal Leary was working for Bangor lawyer Marshall Stern, who was involved in politics. They married in 1973 and made a home in Augusta.
He was a tough reporter, Susan Leary said, but there was another side of him.
“I saw the tender side, the man who kissed his kittens,” she said.
The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary in March.
“I truly think he waited before going to have our anniversary, to be here for my birthday on April 26.”
Services had not been announced Sunday, but Susan Leary said her husband will be cremated and his ashes scattered, possibly in Penobscot Bay or in waters that he loved off Key West, Florida.
In addition to his wife, Leary is survived by three grown children.
Longtime Maine Public Radio journalist Mal Leary dies at 72 (pressherald.com)