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Steven DuBois, beloved AP raconteur, dies at 53

Eclectic journalist worked in Portland bureau over 20 years

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Associated Press reporter  Steven DuBois is shown in February 2020. DuBois spent two decades sharing Oregon's biggest news and quirkiest neuroticisms with readers worldwide.
Associated Press reporter Steven DuBois is shown in February 2020. DuBois spent two decades sharing Oregon's biggest news and quirkiest neuroticisms with readers worldwide. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Steven DuBois, an Associated Press reporter who spent two decades sharing Oregon’s biggest news and quirkiest neuroticisms with readers worldwide, died Tuesday after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 53.

Quiet and self-effacing, DuBois avoided the spotlight during his more than 20 years in AP’s Portland bureau but was universally respected by his colleagues for his talent and sensitivity. He wrote and rewrote his own stories, worried they weren’t good enough, and frequently didn’t put his name on work he felt didn’t meet his standards.

As the day-to-day news supervisor, DuBois held others to those standards and mentored dozens of journalists, shaping reporters and future news managers both at the AP and elsewhere.

“If he didn’t think something was up to snuff, he would send it back with just two words at the top: ‘Write better,’” said Peter Prengaman, who began at AP working the night shift with DuBois in 2002 and is now the wire service’s U.S. West news director.

“In those discussions and revisions, I learned so much about leads, structures, word choice and the kind of reporting necessary to make sure you have the pieces to write well,” he said.

Over the years, DuBois was at the center of some of the biggest stories in Oregon, including the armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge by anti-government activists and the federal court cases that resulted from it; a mass shooting at a community college in Southern Oregon; and a plot to bomb Portland’s downtown square during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.

The odd stories

His favorite stories, though, were the odd ones.

He once chronicled a man who ate a 20-ounce steak at Morton’s of Chicago every night for 103 days. He described the man, who tipped 100 percent on bills that topped $150, as someone “soft-spoken and down-to-earth, as ostentatious as meatloaf.” The man, an environmental consultant, also fed his German shepherd, Tasha, steaks that cost $32.95.

“That was one of his best qualities: while pretending to be disengaged from the world, he was actually a great listener,” said Andrew Kramer, who worked with DuBois on Portland’s night shift and is now based in Russia with The New York Times.

At a wire service built around speed, DuBois had a knack for getting the illuminating details and emotional nuance that made his stories stand out.

“He could talk to anyone and get them to open up, especially the ordinary people who were baffled to find themselves, for better or worse, the subject of an AP story,” said Jonathan Cooper, a Phoenix-based AP reporter who worked with DuBois in Portland.

DuBois was born in Warwick, R.I., the youngest of three children. His father worked for a wholesale jeweler and traveled frequently. He was extremely close to his mother and often recalled how she taught him to read when he was 3 or 4 years old. He studied at Rhode Island College and, after some soul-searching, transferred to the University of Mississippi to pursue journalism.

His older brother, Robert “Jared” DuBois, said from a young age DuBois was fascinated with journalism, particularly sports writing. The brothers, both avid sports fans, would fight over the local newspaper to read the sports column, he recalled.

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