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James H. Creighton Jr. obituary: Former Post-Dispatch editor and master of many things

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 5, 2011 - Jim Creighton worked in almost every department at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during his 34-year tenure and was considered by his colleagues to be one of the best editors ever to redline their copy. But his editing was not the accomplishment of which he was most proud. That honor was reserved for his banning of the spittoon, a newsroom essential for decades.

"He often said that he got rid of the spittoons when he became sports editor not out of any health concerns for the staffers (this was when the newsroom air was thick with cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke), but out of concern for the cleaners," recalled food editor Judy Evans in an in-house obituary for Post-Dispatch staffers. "He thought that no person should have such a nasty job as cleaning out the spittoons."

Mr. Creighton (pronounced Cry-ton) died Sunday at St. Andrews Healthcare, a rehabilitation center in Los Angeles, following a hospitalization for pneumonia on April 10. He was 75.

He had long exhibited a sense of fairness and respect for the treatment of others.

"Early, early on before the movement got really rolling, Jim was a big civil libertarian, terribly open minded," said Jim Hanselman, a former Post-Dispatch features editor. "There was not a biased bone in his body."

An 'Undercurrent of Quirkiness'

"He had a great sense of humor and an undercurrent of quirkiness," said Patricia Corrigan, a former Post-Dispatch writer.

Like coming to work on Halloween wearing a mask. Amassing an inordinate number of books to sate his interest in sundry topics. Or entertaining his colleagues after hours with his mastery of prestidigitation.

"Once in a while we'd go over to the Missouri Bar & Grill after work and he'd do close-up magic," Corrigan said. "He was really good at it."

His appetite for reading was legendary.

Corrigan said that he would periodically have to divest himself of books, but to no avail. More books would, he said, simply "show up."

"He and I both read Anthony Powell's complete 'A Dance to the Music of Time' (a 12-volume work of fiction) and referred to things in the books to the consternation and (sometimes) annoyance of some colleagues," said Robert Duffy, another former Post-Dispatch editor, critic and reporter who is now associate editor with the St. Louis Beacon.

Mr. Creighton loved adventure.

After seeing the movie "Deliverance," he and Hanselman decided to reenact the canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River. They even hired Payson Kennedy, the stuntman who doubled for Burt Reynolds in the movie, to guide them.

"It was a mistake, of course," laughed Hanselman. "We were in over our heads, figuratively and literally."

The Music Man

During his long career at the Post-Dispatch, Mr. Creighton worked as a copy editor, sports writer, assistant sports editor, assistant picture editor, night city editor, picture editor, feature writer, Everyday editor, Sunday Pictures editor, features director and his last job at the Post, pop music writer.

Mr. Creighton knew and loved all kinds of music. One of his favorite singers was the iconic Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan. He had an extensive Dylan music collection that included two of his favorites, "End of the Line," when Dylan performed with the Traveling Wilburys, and the plaintive "Blowin' in the Wind."

In the Post's internal obituary, TV critic Gail Pennington recalled Mr. Creighton striking the right musical note for the paper's news coverage.

"I particularly remember that the day Kurt Cobain killed himself, it was Creighton who knew who he was and persuaded the news editors that we needed to run a story," Pennington said.

It was typical of Mr. Creighton's style and dedication.

"Jim had a lot of soul and he may have been the most talented all-around newspaper man I ever met," said Harper Barnes, a former Post features editor. "Jim was a very precise editor with little tolerance for silly mistakes or laziness."

First, Journalism

"His ambition was to be a sportswriter," said retired Post-Dispatch critic Joe Pollack, who met Mr. Creighton when he was still in high school and Pollack was a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "I watched him grow; he could do everything. He was brilliant."

James Harold Creighton Jr. was born September 10, 1935, in Parsons, Kan. He earned his undergraduate and master's degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia, then went to work for United Press International in Dallas, followed by brief stints at the Decatur (Ill.) Daily Tribune, the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune and at University of Missouri in Columbia, where he was an instructor before joining the Post-Dispatch in 1964.

Mr. Creighton retired to California in 1998 after being hospitalized for eight months with what later was determined to be a progressive, muscle-weakening disease called inclusion body myositis. His leave-taking was seen as momentous.

"The same year that Jim Creighton retired from the Post-Dispatch, Google was born," said Dick Weiss, a former Post-Dispatch features editor and now a contributing editor for the Beacon. "Coincidence? Maybe. But to his colleagues, Google was the only thing that could replace Jim's broad knowledge about so many things. Not even Google could replace the helpful and efficient way he put that knowledge to use on behalf of us and, more importantly, our readers."

Labors of Love

As an amateur magician, Mr. Creighton entertained at children's parties and was a longtime member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He was also a member of the Newspaper Guild.

Mr. Creighton was previously married and divorced twice.

He was preceded in death by his parents, James Sr. and Bennie Sue Phelan Creighton and a sister, Melissa Ann Serck.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children, Ben (Susana) Creighton of Playa Vista, Cal., and Julianne (Simon) Lampard of Topanga, Cal.; a brother and a sister, Timothy Creighton and Pamela (Ralph) Wells, both of Kansas City, Kan., and four grandchildren.

"He was very kind, generous and considerate," said his wife, Floramie 'Flora' Sarra Magan Creighton. "He loved his work."

A memorial gathering will be held May 14 at their home in Los Angeles.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service. 

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.