National Press Club

Don Larrabee, 1973 Club president and advocate for journalism, dies at 93

July 19, 2017 | By Frank Aukofer and Ken Dalecki |

Don Larrabee (right) chats with Ken Dalecki at the Gerald R. Ford Awards luncheon in 2012.

Don Larrabee (right) chats with Ken Dalecki at the Gerald R. Ford Awards luncheon in 2012.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Donald R. Larrabee, National Press Club president in 1973 and a founding member of the board of the National Press Foundation in 1976, died July 18 at the Sunrise on Connecticut home in Washington.

Larrabee, born in Portland, Maine, was a sergeant in an Army Air Corps public relations unit in the Philippines when Japan surrendered in August, 1945. He was one of the first Americans to arrive in Japan, landing in Yokohama.

"I carried a carbine and a typewriter and didn't use either one," he recalled in an interview 50 years after the event.

He said he didn't need the rifle because the Japanese accepted defeat under Emperor Hirohito's orders. He did not need the typewriter because publicity hungry Gen. Douglas MacArthur had not yet arrived. Asked about controversy over use of the atomic bomb, Don said "I never had a conversation with a Japanese about the atomic bomb. At the time it was just another, bigger weapon."

In Washington, Larrabee owned and operated the Griffin-Larrabee News Service on Capitol Hill, which served newspapers in New England. He covered Congress and federal government for 30 years. Along the way, he served as secretary of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the governing body for the congressional Daily Press Gallery. He retired in 1978.

During his 1973 NPC presidency, Larrabee presided over the Club's first Fourth Estate Award which was given to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite. He was a founding member in 1985 of the Club's Silver/Golden Owls group, which recognized members with 25 and 50 years of tenure at bi-yearly dinners and was an enthusiastic participant in singing the group's theme song.

“Don was a great storyteller and had lived through so much rich history of the intersection of journalism and politics in Washington," Tammy Lytle, an NPC past president said. "He was helpful to many National Press Club presidents and cared deeply about the institution of the press and the camaraderie of the club as a meeting place for the nation’s top journalists.”

Larrabee served as executive director of the National Press Foundation from 1979 to 1985. In the early days of the foundation, he persuaded Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America,” to join the NPF’s board of directors.

Larrabee was elected in 1980 to the Hall of Fame of the Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He also was a member of the Gridiron Club and a frequent soloist in its annual shows. He was also a long-time member of the NPC American Legion Post 20.

After retirement, he became the director of the Washington office of the State of Maine in the National Press Building, working with his wife, Mary Beth. After her death, he remarried. His second wife, Barbara, also predeceased him.

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