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Former NPR Commentator Rod MacLeish Dies

Roderick MacLeish mischievously told people he was a wild-animal trainer from Kenya. He said he was once a prisoner in Siberia, rescued by a pair of huskies.

But the truth of MacLeish's life was far more interesting.

He was a filmmaker, an author of both true stories and wild science-fiction, and a journalist who covered the world, from the Sinai War between Egypt and Israel to the conflict in the Belgian Congo, the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

MacLeish died Saturday of natural causes at a retirement home in Washington, D.C., his family said. He was 80 years old.

"Everywhere I go, I meet all these people that interned for my father and they all say how wonderful he was," his son, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said. "He loved to teach."

MacLeish worked as a news director for WBZ radio in Boston in the early 1950s and later moved to London, where he was assigned the job of establishing a foreign news department for Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. He also worked for CBS News in Washington in the early 1970s, doing political commentary, and was a commentator and news analyst for NPR.

When he wasn't covering foreign conflicts, he traveled the country writing social and political commentaries, including producing a program focused on race relations, A Month in the Country, with Bernard Shaw.

MacLeish was also a student of the arts with a remarkable memory. He was the broadcast voice of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and he narrated art-gallery exhibits and wrote several works of fiction. His documentary on the Hermitage in St. Petersburg was nominated for an Emmy.

As a writer and storyteller, MacLeish had a sense of humor and loved telling tall tales, his family said.

One day, his former wife and lifelong friend, Diana MacLeish, was sitting on her front steps with her two dogs. A stranger approached and asked, "Are these the two huskies that saved Rod MacLeish from the prison in Siberia?"

Without missing a beat, she answered that they were. She knew her friend liked to tell fantastic, if not true, stories about himself.

MacLeish was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa. Among his novels was Prince Ombra, a good-vs.-evil science-fiction thriller published in 1982 about a boy with magic powers in modern New England. He also wrote The Sun Stood Still, about the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

He is survived by his children, Sumner MacLeish and Roderick MacLeish Jr., and three grandchildren.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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