Indiana-born journalist and longtime Westfield resident was foreign correspondent, columnist and deputy to Robert L. Bartley
Eminent journalist George Melloan died peacefully at his home in Westfield last Monday, Sept. 28, at the age of 92. Melloan, who retired in 2006 after a 54-year career at The Wall Street Journal, was part of a team of editorial-page writers who advocated lower taxes and reduced government regulation.
Melloan was described as the rudder on the daily “Review & Outlook” column that continues today. According to WSJ colleague Paul Gigot, Melloan “taught a legion of editorial writers how to think and hone their craft. He believed in sound money, low taxes, free trade and democratic self-government.”
His WSJ colleague and friend Seth Lipsky called Melloan “one of the greatest newspapermen of his, or any, time.”
Melloan was born on a farm outside Whiteland, Indiana in 1927, the youngest of eight children. That year his dad, a farmer, lost a large sum of money on a cattle futures deal that went south. The family moved into the town of Whiteland in 1933.
Melloan tells in his book “When the New Deal Came to Town,” a combination memoir and economic history, how he and his next-oldest sister Marie delighted in flipping the light switches off and on, never having lived in a house with electricity before. His mom opened up a general store for a few years, where he and other siblings worked.
Growing up during the Depression in a rural area helped shape Melloan’s economic views.
“We Journal editors were a rather proletarian lot to be promoting capitalism,” he wrote. “We were not the voice of big business, as our critics glibly called us at the time, but exponents of free-market capitalism, an economic system that allows any individual to build a business and compete with the big boys.”
Melloan went to Butler University in Indianapolis and majored in journalism. After graduating he got a job at the Logansport (Indiana) Ferris Tribune, where he met Joann Minner (later known as Jody). Jody was from Franklin, right down the road from Whiteland. Jody got a job at the Muncie (Indiana) Evening Press and told her bosses there that they might want to hire her friend George Melloan. George joined that paper, and the two were married at the time they worked there.
Melloan then secured a job at the Wall Street Journal’s Chicago bureau in 1952. After a couple of years in Chicago, the couple moved to Detroit, where their first two children, Jim and Molly were born. Then on to Cleveland, then Atlanta, where their third and last child Maryanne was born. Very soon after arriving in Atlanta, George was asked to join the WSJ team in New York.
The Melloans settled in Westfield in 1962. But in 1966 they moved to London, England, where George was a foreign correspondent for four years. He traveled all over Europe and Africa, visiting the Soviet Union, covering the Six-Day War in Israel in 1967, the war in Biafra a little later, Muammar Gaddafi’s takeover in Libya in 1969 and many other stories.
He went back to the New York bureau and to living in Westfield in 1970. George joined the Journal’s editorial page and soon became Deputy Editor. In 1978, Melloan co-wrote the book “The Carter Economy” along with his wife Jody. The book was an accurate prediction that Jimmy Carter’s economic policies weren’t going to go well.
In 1990, Melloan was asked to move to Brussels to head the Journal’s international editions. When Melloan moved to Brussels, the WSJ editorial staff joked that Bob Bartley had grown impatient with the Soviet Union and finally decided to send over his heaviest hitter to finish it off. Another quip had it that when the Soviet Union heard he was coming, it collapsed.
George and Jody lived in Brussels for four years, then returned to Westfield, and George rejoined the editorial page. After his retirement, Melloan wrote “The Great Money Binge,” a 2009 book about the 2008 economic meltdown and the response to it, and “Free People, Free Markets: How the Wall Street Journal Opinion Pages Shaped America.”
In the past week, many colleagues have shared memories of Melloan, including his WSJ colleague Melanie Kirkpatrick.
“I am reminded of his kindness by something that happened when the President of Poland came for an editorial board meeting,” Kirkpatrick said. “Walesa was the first democratically elected president of Poland. He was an electrician and leader of the Solidarity trade-union group that stood up to the Communist government. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. George was the host of the meeting.
“The Dow Jones electricians, three of them, somehow got wind that Walesa was coming, and when we got upstairs to the executive floor to await Walesa’s arrival, we found them waiting. Their leader asked me to ask George if it would be OK to stand in the back of the room and observe Walesa’s entrance. George said, of course, and then motioned to them to come join him. He asked their names, and when Walesa and his entourage arrived, George introduced them individually. Each of them got to shake hands with the world’s most celebrated electrician. It was a gracious gesture on George’s part and so meaningful to the three electricians.”
In another story from 1981, the New York Times rushed out an editorial calling Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor a “sneak attack” and an “unprovoked act of aggression.” When a colleague asked whether the Journal was going to say what the Times had said, Melloan famously replied: “When have we ever said what the Times said?” The next day, the Journal’s editorial suggested the world owed Israel a vote of thanks. The editorial was called “Mourning the Bomb.”
The Times’ editor, Max Frankel, later called its own editorial one of the Gray Lady’s “major mistakes.”
In the course of his career, Melloan won a Gerald Loeb award for commentary and two Daily Gleaner awards from the Inter American Press Association for reporting on Central America.
His final book entitled “Bogus Science: How Scare Politics Robs Voters, Corrupts Research, and Poisons Minds” will be published early next year.
Melloan's wife, Joan “Jody” Melloan, wrote for newspapers and magazines. She died in 2014. Melloan is survived by three children — Jim, Molly and Maryanne — and a granddaughter, Sara McKenna Woods.