Al Horne, stalwart editor on Washington Post foreign desk, dies at 89

Al Horne, a journalist who spent four decades at The Washington Post, where he edited the Outlook section in the 1970s and then worked on the foreign desk, shepherding stories about the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, died Sept. 9 at a hospital in Washington. He was 89.

The cause was a heart attack, said his daughter Ellen Horne.

Mr. Horne was born to Jews in Poland who were forced to flee soon after the German invasion in September 1939. He grew up in New York and, after a brief journalism apprenticeship, arrived at The Post in 1958 as an assistant city editor. He was fluent in Polish and German and, over the next decade, he was an editor on the world and national desks and with The Post’s magazine, then called Potomac.

He ran the Outlook opinion and essay section from 1971 to 1982, then was an assistant foreign editor until retiring in 1997. He went to Warsaw to report on the fall of communism in 1989 — an assignment his daughter said was the pride of his career — but he mostly guided other reporters in the field as they covered the dramatic final years of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Peter Osnos, a Post foreign correspondent who later founded the publishing house PublicAffairs, said Mr. Horne was “not a newsroom swashbuckler, but someone who exuded quiet reserve, a thoughtful person on complicated stories.”

David Hoffman, The Post’s former assistant managing editor for foreign news, described Mr. Horne as a journalist who “epitomized the era of the editor who was also master specialist.”

“Correspondents were out on the edge of tumult and change — and they could not always see everything happening at every minute — but they knew Al was the wind at their back, weaving in essential context, familiar with the players, lucid in the history,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman recalled working as a White House reporter in July 1989 and filing a story while traveling to Poland with President George H.W. Bush. The article began: “President Bush set foot behind the weakening wall of communism tonight, paying tribute to the accelerating pace of change and declaring that Americans ‘have a fervent wish: that Europe be whole and free.’”

“This was speculative on my part,” Hoffman said, “based on what had been happening, and Al Horne put it right in the paper as written, because he saw it, too. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. That’s what was so special about him, he had sensitivity to foreign correspondents who were discovering, observing, reporting. Although he was on the desk, he was at the shoulder of his correspondents, ever watchful and committed to the best possible story — and these were days when we had one good shot a day.”

Alexander Douglas Horne, who used the byline A.D. Horne, was born Aleksander Einhorn in Warsaw on Nov. 9, 1932. The family, which later changed its surname, settled in the New York City borough of Queens, and his father resumed his career as an insurance company executive. His mother, who had a law degree from a Polish university, became an office manager and bookkeeper.

Mr. Horne was editor of his high school newspaper and attended Williams College in Massachusetts on a scholarship. After graduating in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in American history and literature, he worked for the Berkshire Eagle newspaper in Pittsfield, Mass., and served in the Army before joining The Post. He edited the 1981 book “The Wounded Generation: America After Vietnam.”

After his retirement, he spent about a decade working as a fill-in summer copy editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris and Hong Kong and maintained his health through sport. As he once summarized his abilities with a flash of wry pride: “I’ve been able to play mediocre tennis into my seventies.”

In 1960, he married Ann Hurd. In addition to his wife, of Washington, and his daughter Ellen, of West Orange, N.J., survivors include six other children, Julia Patchan of Herndon, Va., Owen Horne of Lakeway, Texas, Libby Horne of La Crescenta, Calif., Jennifer Horne of Santa Cruz, Calif., Gary Einhorn of Takoma Park, Md., and Brian Horne of Portland, Ore.; and 11 grandchildren.

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