Skip to content

Former Washington Post editor succumbs to cancer

Lynne Duke's "Mandela, Mobutu, and Me." (11705)
Lynne Duke’s “Mandela, Mobutu, and Me.”

Crenshaw High graduate Lynne Adrienne Duke, described in the Washington Post as a journalist “who brought an emotional clarity to the most trenchant stories, from the crack epidemic that terrorized a Miami housing project once known as ‘the Graveyard’ to the legacy of apartheid South Africa,” died April 19 at her home in Silver Spring. She was 56.

According to her husband and former Washington Post City Editor Phillip Dixon, the cause was lung cancer. Duke worked at the Post from 1987 to 2008, retiring as an editor in the Style section after assignments reporting from Johannesburg and New York.

Covering South Africa was a defining experience for Duke, who first went there for The Post in 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. She returned to Johannesburg in 1994 for the nation’s first multiracial election and stayed on to cover Mandela’s presidency. She also jumped around the region covering breaking news, including the aftermath of Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorial rule in what was then Zaire.

In her 2003 memoir “Mandela, Mobutu and Me,” Duke said she felt connected to a “vast African narrative that resonates within me like an ancestral whisper. “But sometimes the whisper was a scream,” she added, “. . . I also had to grapple with ugly Africa: The Africa of horror and unspeakable brutality; the Africa that sometimes made me question the existence of God; the Africa that I could not ignore if I was to claim the continent as my own. I witnessed a terrible warping of the human spirit, and I loathed it.”

Duke began her journalism career at the Miami Herald after graduating from Columbia University’s journalism school in 1985. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a 1987 feature article about the violent fallout of crack cocaine and intransigent poverty at a Miami public housing project, nicknamed the Graveyard because of the untrue rumor that it was built over a cemetery.

Born July 29, 1956, in Los Angeles, she grew up in a family where her father was a supervisor of the county’s department of parks and recreation and her mother was a psychotherapist for the state of California.

After studying dance at the University of California at Los Angeles, she moved to New York to pursue a theater career. To support herself, she worked an overnight shift at CBS News, and it was that job that moved her toward a journalism career.

She is survived by Philip, her husband of 13 years; father, Hubert Duke of New Rochelle, N.Y.; her mother, Constance Duke-Allston of Kensington; a brother; and two sisters.

Adapted from a Washington Post article by Adam Bernstein.