National Press Club

Lions of the Club lost: NPC mourns former presidents Don Larrabee and Dave Hess

July 19, 2017 | By Frank Aukofer |

National Press Club Past Presidents David Hess and Don Larrabee lead the singing as The Owls induct new members during the Spring Hoot, April 26, 2012.

National Press Club Past Presidents David Hess and Don Larrabee lead the singing as The Owls induct new members during the Spring Hoot, April 26, 2012.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

The National Press Club lost two of its former presidents within a day: Donald R. Larrabee, president in 1973, died July 18 at the Sunrise on Connecticut home in Washington; and David Hess, president in 1985, died July 19 at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Larrabee, 93, had become increasingly frail and suffered memory loss, according to his daughter, Donna Palmer. Hess’s death was reported by his nephew, Darren Burnham, who said that Hess, 83, was in rehabilitation for a recent fall when he was stricken. He had previously suffered several strokes.

In addition to serving as Press Club president, Larrabee was a founding member of the board of the National Press Foundation in 1976 and served as its executive director from 1979 to 1985. In the early days of the foundation, he persuaded Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America,” to join the NPF’s board of directors.

Larrabee, born in Portland, Maine, was the owner and operator of the Griffin-Larrabee News Service on Capitol Hill, which served newspapers in New England. He retired in 1978 after 30 years covering Congress and the government. Along the way, he served as secretary of the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the governing body for the congressional Daily Press Gallery.

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.

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. Larrabee is survived by his daughter and her husband, Jack; a brother, Henry; daughter-in-law Diana. and three grandchildren.

Both Larrabee and Hess were founding members and board members of the Silver Owls, an organization started in 1985 in the Press Club for members with 25 years of membership.

Hess, as Press Club president in 1985, presided over the merger of the National Press Club and Washington Press Club, successor to the National Women's Press Club founded in 1919. Before that, he was part of the team that negotiated the merger.

Hess contributed to the club in many ways, including pitching for the National Press Club softball team in the Metropolitan Media Softball League in the early 1990s. Hess was on the team when it won its first divisional title, and combined with Aaron Epstein to form the oldest starting rotation in the league.

Born in Glendale, W. Va., Hess eventually became a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio. The paper sent him to Washington in 1970, where he joined the Knight Newspapers bureau, later Knight Ridder.

Hess covered politics, Congress and the White House. After his retirement from Knight Ridder, he continued on Capitol Hill as a reporter for the National Journal’s Congress Daily.

In declining health from several strokes and back problems, Hess moved from his home in Springfield, Va., in 2010 to live near family members in Columbus. His wife, Dorothy, and two children, Laura and Daniel, preceded him in death.

"We are always poorer when we lose the fellowship from those among our leadership ranks who transition to the celestial National Press Club and are richer for their legacies," National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou said. "Thank you to Don and David for the chapters they have written in our history."