Rural Librarian: Dewey Lee Fleming: From Whitmer To Washington

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dewey Lee Fleming: From Whitmer To Washington

West Virginia has been the birthplace of many famous people including Chuck Yeager, Don Knotts, Kathy Matea, and Bill Withers. But most have probably never heard of a gentleman born in Whitmer, WV, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Who Is Dewey Lee Fleming?

Dewey Lee Fleming (1898-1955) was born in Whitmer to parents Sidney Albert Fleming and Hattie Alice Bowers. Fleming grew up in Sutton, WV, where his parents owned a general store, and he goes on to attend Davis and Elkins College, graduating in 1918 with a B.A. degree. While at D&E, Fleming worked at the local daily newspaper, The Intermountain. According to Fleming’s obituary in the New York Times, he gave his $500 Pulitzer Prize money to D&E, where he also served as a trustee. In 1944, D&E awarded Fleming an honorary “Doctor of Laws” degree.

Newspaperman Fleming

After a summer at Columbia University in New York City, Fleming took a job for one year at the Baltimore News-American newspaper, and later worked at the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Fleming went on to be Bureau Chief of New York City, Chicago, and London, before achieving the goal as Bureau Chief of Washington DC for the Sun. Fleming’s job took him all over the world and he worked at the Baltimore Sun for almost 20 years. Dewey Fleming covered such cases as the Hall-Mills Murder Trial, 1926 and the Valentine’s Day Massacre, 1929.

Fleming Marries Walker

In 1932, Fleming married Elizabeth Walker of Buckhannon, a graduate of Ohio University. Here is a charming tidbit from the Ohio Alumnus from November 1931:

“Maybe this is confidential but it is just too good to keep. Anyway, here goes. Elizabeth Walker, '23, of Clarksburg, W.Va., is engaged to Dewey Lee Fleming, of Washington, D. C. Now, isn't that a real break for Mr. Fleming? Betty is an art supervisor in the Clarksburg schools. Her fiance, a graduate of Davis-Elkins College and Columbia University, is a staff correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. He has recently returned from two years in London.” Their marital union was short-lived as Ms. Fleming died in 1938.

Fleming Wins Pulitzer Prize

It is as a reporter and journalist that Fleming received his highest honor, for reporting as Washington Bureau Chief for the Baltimore Sun in August, 1943. Dewey Lee Fleming was one of nine newspaper reporters invited to travel in secrecy with President Roosevelt to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the first Quebec Conference. It was here that these two great leaders hashed out the finer points of World War II including the invasion of France, and stepping up bombing attacks on Germany. Roosevelt and Churchill also talked about the need for developing atomic weapons. Some might consider the Quebec Conference one of the most important meetings of the 20th century, and Dewey Lee Fleming, born in Whitmer, West Virginia, was there. In 1944, Fleming won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in the previous year.

West Virginia Journalist

Fleming died in May of 1955 at the age of 56. I do not know what he died of but the obituary published in the Baltimore Sun says that he died in Johns Hopkins Hospital where he had been since the previous September. Sadly, whatever killed Fleming took about 9 months. How important was Dewey Lee Fleming? At the news of his death, the press secretary for then President Eisenhower commented, “On behalf of the President I want publically to express his deep regret on the passing of Dewey Fleming of the Baltimore Sun.” His colleagues at the Baltimore Sun wrote the most touching tribute of all on May 19, 1955 that read in part:

“Other columns in The Sun today deal with his long and distinguished service as chief to this newspaper’s Washington bureau; with his profound knowledge of national and international affairs; with his honors; with the esteem in which his Washington colleagues held him. We think, rather, of his strength of character and the dedication to an ideal that made this small, quiet, modest, warmhearted man, as fine and as uncompromising a reporter as we have ever been privileged to know.” Now that is a great tribute.

So maybe Dewey Lee Fleming is not as famous as Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, but this mild-mannered man from West Virginia became a respected journalist who knew Presidents and Prime Ministers. Fleming was clearly an intelligent, inspiring, and meticulous journalist working in the Golden Age of newspaper and investigative reporting. This was a time when facts were checked, attitudes were checked, and a good journalist reported the facts and events in a balanced and nonjudgmental way. While not a huge name in West Virginia history, Dewey Lee Fleming is a gentleman worth remembering.

Do you enjoy West Virginia history too? Come check out the West Virginia collection of fiction and nonfiction available at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

Some sources:

"Dewey L. Fleming, Newsman, Was 56." New York Times [New York City] 19 May 1955: 29. Print.

Clarage, Elizabeth C. "Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners." Google Books. Ed. Elizabeth Brennan. Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. .

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