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Wade Goodwyn, longtime NPR correspondent, dies at age 63


Longtime NPR correspondent Wade Goodwyn, known for his coverage of his home state of Texas, has died of cancer. He was 63. NPR's Debbie Elliott remembers Goodwyn's reporting and his singular voice.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Wade Goodwyn's soothing bass had a way of pulling you a little closer to the radio.


WADE GOODWYN: Compared to the nuclear blast that Biloxi and Gulfport experienced from Hurricane Katrina...

ELLIOTT: If his voice pulled you in, his storytelling kept you listening, with telling details that illuminate just what people are going through after a hurricane.


GOODWYN: In Louisiana, you hug your NASCAR teddy bear when the big blow comes, even if you're a barrel-chested National Guardsman.

STEVE DRUMMOND, BYLINE: You know, Wade was a poet.

ELLIOTT: NPR senior editor Steve Drummond.

DRUMMOND: A little detail, the little color or sound that he'd seen out in the field - and it just made what he said sparkle.

ELLIOTT: Radio storytelling is what pulled Wade Goodwyn into journalism. His first big assignment came in 1993.


BOB EDWARDS: Good morning. The FBI today begins the search for bodies in the ruins of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

GOODWYN: Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rushed through their preparations for the assault on the Branch Davidian compound. They were spurred on by the knowledge that the element of surprise they'd been counting on was gone and that heavily armed cult members were likely awaiting them a few hundred yards away.

ELLIOTT: NPR managing editor Vickie Walton-James says Wade brought a distinctive voice to the network's breaking news coverage.

VICKIE WALTON-JAMES, BYLINE: He was really good at infusing humanity into those situations that sometimes people just want to turn away from. They don't want to think about them.

ELLIOTT: He also had a passion for stories about injustice, like the story of James Lee Woodard, who came to Wade's home studio in Dallas for an interview.


GOODWYN: ...The very same day he'd been exonerated and gotten out of jail. My two big dogs, Miles and Rosie, came running into the room with stuffed toys in their mouths to demonstrate just what fine guard dogs they were. Come on, guys, leave the man alone, I said. Get out of here. Woodard stopped me, saying, no, I love dogs. I guess it's been a while, I said. Woodard teared up. Twenty-seven years, he whispered, as he got down on both knees to play with Miles and Rosie. I stood there a while and watched and then sat. Take your time, Mr. Woodard, I said. The interview can wait.

ELLIOTT: Wade was eager to share Texas' cultural gems and bits of forgotten history and folklore. That earned him a bit of a cult following among NPR listeners who flat-out love the way he could spin a tale.


GOODWYN: Joe Bowman was so good with a single-action revolver, he could turn an aspirin into powder at 20 yards.

ELLIOTT: Spanning three decades with NPR, Wade Goodwyn gave voice to much joy and also much trauma. As he reflected 25 years later on the toll of the Oklahoma City bombing, Wade gave listeners a glimpse of what it was like to consider all that he'd seen.


GOODWYN: When I tried to record the narrative for the story, describing the bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace," my throat closed up at that part, and I couldn't go on. I told the recording engineers to give me five and then try it again. To my frustration, I choked up a second time. Eventually, I got through it, but someone must have called my editor, and a few minutes later, the phone rang. It's time to go home, he told me. You've done a good job, Goodwyn. Go home to Texas. And so I did. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

ELLIOTT: Good job indeed, Goodwyn. Find rest at home.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.