Harvard history professor Frederick Merk was a favorite of Niemans

Harvard history professor Frederick Merk was a favorite of Niemans

At the Chicago Daily News, Lahey (1902–1969) used what he learned at Harvard about accounting to investigate an Illinois state auditor; the official landed in prison

The Nieman Fellow who made the largest impact on Harvard that first year was Edwin A. Lahey. It was Lahey’s first experience with college but he had larger experience of life than any of us, and his gift for pungent expression had Harvard students and faculty collecting “Laheyisms.” As a writer, Lahey had the most individual style of the group. He had color, verve, incisiveness, an earthy touch with reality, an ear for the right word and a sure sense for the heart of the matter. I once asked him to account for this, for he had left school after the eighth grade. He told me that working in a railroad freight house, he had long spells of waiting for something to do and used to read Dickens. Then he amused himself, he said, by trying to write sentences “as long as Dickens’s.” He must have learned more than length of sentences from Dickens …

Lahey to the Harvard mind was the prototype of Nieman Fellows. His range of interests was surprising. He shared with me the course in the intellectual history of the Middle Ages. Then he went to a course in accounting. I remonstrated against letting any of his Nieman Year be preempted by accounting. “I’m going to know how to squeeze the water out of a municipal budget,” he said. And he did. When the Daily News was investigating the delinquencies of a state auditor in a notorious case, they brought Ed Lahey up from Washington to contribute his expertise in exploring the elaborate diversion of public funds … Such insistent curiosity is, of course, one of the most valuable qualities for journalism. It equipped Ed Lahey to make the most of his year at Harvard, for a Nieman Fellowship is just what you make of it.

From “Harvard Meets the Press” by Louis M. Lyons in Nieman Reports, Spring 1989

Most popular articles from Nieman Reports

Show comments / Leave a comment