TOPEKA, Kan. — Lew Ferguson, who mentored dozens of other journalists during a long career with The Associated Press that included nearly three decades covering Kansas politics, has died. He was 83.
Ferguson’s 42-year career included coverage of professional baseball and football as a sports writer before he became AP’s supervisory correspondent in Topeka in 1970, a job he held until his retirement in 1999. He helped cover the World Series three times and the Super Bowl in 1970, and he reported on nine national political conventions.
His daughter said he died Thursday night at an Oklahoma City hospital. No cause of death was given, but he had two heart attacks earlier this year.
He became a confidante of former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican nominee for president and the father of former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker. He also became a friend of Dr. Karl Menninger, the internationally known psychiatrist. He had lunch regularly with both.
“He knew the people, senators, governors and managers, and he was more than a partner — for an outsider he was a teacher,” said Walter Mears, a former AP vice president, Washington bureau chief and national political writer. “Lew was encyclopedic.”
Ferguson, who grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, was inducted into that state’s Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009. He was inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2012.
In covering Kansas politics, he became known as a dogged reporter with a reputation for fairness and a comprehensive knowledge of state government. After leaving journalism, he served a four-year term on the Kansas Board of Regents starting in 2001, appointed as a political independent by then-GOP Gov. Bill Graves.
“He was liked and respected by everyone who knew him across the aisle in politics,” said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican. “Kansas has a long tradition of outstanding public service journalism. Lew will stand as one of the very best.”
Ferguson helped to train about 50 young writers before his retirement, and during his tenure, the Topeka bureau was sometimes referred to as a “finishing school” for reporters. Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, recalled the first time she saw Ferguson rush back to the office to write an urgent story on the failure of death penalty legislation when she was a legislative relief staffer in Topeka in 1988.
“It was a joy to watch him report and write stories — he was so darned good at it — and he infused all of us with that joy of reporting,” Buzbee said in an email. “He was kind and patient and funny — very, very funny — but also demanding and with the highest standards.”
Lewis LeRoy “Lew” Ferguson was born Jan. 9, 1934, on a farm in rural Kay County, Oklahoma, and held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. He was an avid Sooners fan.
After two years as a sports and wire editor at his hometown newspaper in Ponca City, he joined the AP’s Oklahoma City bureau in 1960. He worked in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and later became a sports writer in Minneapolis and Kansas City, Missouri. He helped cover the World Series in 1965, 1980 and 1985.
Ferguson married his wife, Sue, in 1958, and they moved back to Ponca City in 2005. He is survived by her and their two children and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements haven’t been announced.
Hanna worked under Ferguson in the Topeka bureau from 1986 until Ferguson’s retirement in 1999.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna