Services were to be held this morning for Frank J. McDevitt, retired Inquirer reporter, former president of the Philadelphia Press Association and decorated Marine Corps veteran of World War II. McDevitt, who died Thursday [May 30, 1985], was 73 and lived in Center City.
McDevitt began his newspaper career in 1931 as a copyboy at the Inquirer. When he retired in December 1976, he had firmly established himself as a premier reporter on the court and police beats. The depth and breadth of his contacts in Philadelphia had few equals in the profession.
By the time he left the business, McDevitt was dealing with judges and lawyers who were the sons of judges and lawyers he had worked with early in his career.
Frank Lordan, former City Hall bureau chief who was McDevitt’s boss from 1966 to 1970, said, “When Frank McDevitt telephoned in a news story, we knew all the facts were correct because he would call all over the country to verify a story. He was an impish Irishman who loved to tell a joke on himself. He was highly respected and many judges and lawyers would seek his counsel, some of whom had fathers who used to seek his advice.”
A 1930 graduate of Northeast Catholic High School, where he ran track and played basketball, McDevitt’s first job out of school was as a page at the Philadelphia Free Library. He went to work as a copyboy at the Inquirer in May 1931 and five years later was made a full-fledged reporter.
In June 1942 he enlisted in the Marine Corps. During the next three years, serving mostly with the famed 1st Marine Raider Battalion, he compiled a distinguished record as a combat correspondent.
McDevitt participated in numerous combat operations in the South Pacific and was decorated with a Bronze Star while evacuating wounded comrades under enemy fire. He went up the ranks from private to master sergeant and subsequently received a battlefield commission to lieutenant.
After the war, McDevitt remained active with the Marine Corps Reserve and was a lieutenant colonel in the Reserve. He was one of the original participants and continued to be active in the Marines’ Toys for Tots Campaign. He also served as an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association.
When he was discharged, he resumed his job at the Inquirer and soon found his niche working the courts. As every profession seemed to be drifting toward faded jeans, McDevitt maintained the style and decorum of the early 1930s, when he broke into the business. He always wore a tie and coat in the office or bureau and sported a felt hat in the winter and a straw hat in the summer.
“He was a class act,” said Tom Cooney, a Daily News editor and longtime friend. “He beat everybody on the big stories because he knew so many judges and lawyers and because he was such a good reporter.”
“A professional in the best sense of the word,” recalled Edgar Williams, Inquirer feature writer and friend of 35 years. “It was a joy to work with him.”
“He was the most conscientious man I’ve ever met and as president of the Press Association he was a good leader. He was a small man, but a bulldog. If he grabbed onto something he didn’t let go quickly,” said John Malone, former Bulletin reporter and retired public-relations director for the Delaware River Port Authority.
In 1970, with a change of ownership at the Inquirer, McDevitt was arbitrarily caught up in mass reassignments as the new editors sought to redesign the staff with the people they had hired. McDevitt was taken out of City Hall and assigned to the obituary page. A lesser man with McDevitt’s background would have cringed.
But the quiet, unassuming McDevitt simply threw all his energies into the obituary page.
“He was a meticulous obit writer,” said Burr Van Atta, Inquirer obituary editor. “He worried and fretted over detail more than any reporter I’ve ever seen. He tried to do right by every person he wrote about. He put his heart into it.”
McDevitt was a member of the American Catholic Historical Society.
A bachelor, McDevitt is survived by five sisters, Agnes M. Krewson, Mary M. McDevitt, Helen A. Barney, Anna M. Keifer and Margaret M. Linneman; and two brothers, James A. and Richard J.
Mass of Christian Burial was to be celebrated at 10 a.m. at All Saints Church, Buckius and Thompson streets. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham Avenue above Easton Road, Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County.