July 12 (Reuters) - Longtime editor of The Tennessean newspaper, former political aide to Robert Kennedy, and civil rights activist John Seigenthaler has died at the age of 86, the newspaper said.
Seigenthaler, who as a reporter once saved a suicidal man from jumping off a bridge that was later named after the writer, died surrounded by his friends and family at his Nashville, Tennessee, home on Friday, the paper said.
Seigenthaler started his career as a journalist for the paper in 1949, winning a National Headliner Award and later investigating corruption in the Teamsters union.
He ultimately retired as the newspaper’s editor, publisher and chief executive officer 42 years later, according to the First Amendment Center which he founded at Vanderbilt University after leaving journalism.
In 1982, while still acting as an editor at the Nashville paper, Seigenthaler became the founding editorial director of USA Today and simultaneously served in both positions for roughly a decade, the center’s website said.
Earlier in his career, Seigenthaler took a break from reporting to join the U.S. Justice Department as an administrative assistant to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the 1960s.
His work on civil rights at the time led him to be chosen as the chief negotiator during the Freedom Rides with the Alabama governor. While in talks with the state, he was attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan for defending black activists and was hospitalized, the center said.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who came to The Tennessean as a young reporter in the 1970s, said it was Seigenthaler who first suggested he pursue a run for Congress.
“He was one of the most important teachers and mentors and role models in my life,” Gore told The Tennessean.
“He was that influential to me because of the respect he commanded and because of the force for good he represented,” Gore said. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)