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Long-time editor, DI supporter dies

BY NINA EARNEST | FEBRUARY 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Most women working for the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1957 wrote for the society and feature pages.

But Phyllis Fleming covered hard news.

Fleming, a longtime member of the Student Publications Inc. board, which oversees The Daily Iowan, died on Feb. 18 after a six-month battle with duodenal cancer. She was 75.

Mary Sharp, a friend and coworker who knew Fleming for 16 years, said the editor was a pioneer for women in the journalism industry.

“Every woman in any newsroom today owes tremendous debt to women like Phyllis, who came into these all-male newsrooms and successfully worked and competed with the guys,” Sharp said.

The Stuart, Iowa, native left behind a legacy as a fair and respected editor.

“She was a devoted reader, a devoted traveler, a devoted journalist, and a devoted friend,” said Shirley Ruedy, a retired reporter and columnist for the Cedar Rapids newspaper.

Fleming’s decision to enter journalism led her to the University of Iowa, where she worked in various positions for The Daily Iowan.

An advocate for student journalists, she stayed involved with the DI until her death by serving on the Student Publications Inc. board for 23 years.

“Phyllis came on our board, and from that day on, we were better because of her wisdom and common sense,” said William Casey, the DI publisher.

After a brief turn in a journalism position in Billings, Mont., Fleming returned to Iowa in 1957 to take a job as the assistant state editor for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

She stayed at the Cedar Rapids newspaper for the next 45 years, taking on several editing positions.

Lyle Muller, current editor of the Gazette, said Fleming interviewed him for a Johnson County bureau chief position 24 years ago to this week.

He said she was very direct and no-nonsense. Muller said it took him time to become accustomed to her all-business nature, but he said he learned she was a reporter’s biggest supporter.

“If you were questioned by her about a story, you knew it needed work,” Muller said. “When she told you this works, that’s a good story.”

Fleming retired in 2002 as the paper’s deputy managing editor.

Ruedy — who was with Fleming, her friend of 52 years, when she passed away — said she responded to her cancer diagnosis in August 2010 in a calm, “very Phyllis” manner.

Fleming was inducted into the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication Hall of Fame for her accomplishments on Jan. 27.

Organizers moved up the ceremony from April in order to ensure Fleming would be able to attend.

David Perlmutter, the director of the UI journalism school, said Fleming always looked out for the best interests of the students.

“She told the truth as she saw it, but you could tell she thought about something before she spoke on it,” Perlmutter said. “Almost always, she was right.”

Muller said more than two dozen editors have read his journalistic work. But no one compared with Fleming — his best editor.

“I never worried about a story that Phyllis edited,” Muller said. “Because I knew at the end it was going to be the best it could be.”


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