David Larimer, versatile Washington Post editor, dies at 47
By Harrison Smith,
David Larimer, a Washington Post editor who helped shape the paper’s coverage of college athletics, conflict overseas and the coronavirus pandemic, died May 15 at a hospital in Washington. He was 47.
The cause was an apparent heart attack, said his wife, Terri Rupar, a former politics editor at The Post.
When Mr. Larimer came to The Post in 1996, at age 22, he was charged with preparing the agate box scores and racing results that once filled much of the newspaper’s Sports section. He went on to become a copy editor for the foreign and sports desks, writing headlines and polishing stories about subjects ranging from the Iraq War to the NBA All-Star Game.
A Montana native who cheered for the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, he spent most of his quarter-century at The Post working on the sports desk, where he wrote NFL previews and served as night editor and college sports editor. After volunteering to edit The Post’s daily coronavirus newsletter and live updates file at the start of the pandemic, he began overseeing breaking news in sports last August, including coverage of Tiger Woods’s car crash and the NCAA basketball tournaments.
“David had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports both popular and obscure,” sports editor Matthew Vita said by email. “He was also a great editor who improved his reporters’ stories and held them to a high standard. But what I’ll remember most about him was his irrepressible energy and enthusiasm, especially when a big story broke.”
That passion extended to seemingly small stories as well, including an article about Louisiana State University football coach Ed Orgeron’s distinctive Cajun accent that grew from an idea for a short blog post into a 1,400-word feature by Chuck Culpepper.
As an editor, Mr. Larimer was admired for catching errors, identifying holes in stories and developing a close rapport with his reporters, often bonding over shared interests in music or food. He also possessed something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality that came out on tight deadlines, when he sometimes yelled profanities while banging away at his keyboard, racing to finalize a headline or fact-check a sentence.
“Sometimes you don’t want to work with people who get a little flustered on deadline. But he was always so funny about it, because that’s when the cursing came out,” said Courtney Rukan, a senior copy editor who serves as The Post’s deputy multiplatform editing chief. “He would just go bananas, and then after deadline was over, he was Dave again.”
Mr. Larimer’s outbursts occasionally startled his neighbors in the office, including when he started shouting profanities after wiping his eyes while eating habanero potato chips. But colleagues said his shouts and curses were always directed at himself, never at others.
“He was like a balm,” Rukan added, “because we were always laughing, even under the most stressful, extreme situations, when games were going extra innings and we were blowing past what the newsroom wanted as a deadline.”
David Lee Larimer, the youngest of four children, was born in Billings, Mont., on March 8, 1974. His father was a Bureau of Land Management surveyor, and his mother later went to work as a baker at his high school cafeteria. Neither had graduated from college, but Mr. Larimer followed an older brother in going to school on the East Coast, studying English at George Washington University.
“He never thought he’d last four years,” Rupar said in an interview. “He thought money would run out or he’d go back home to Montana.” Instead, he turned toward journalism while working as the arts editor at the student-run Hatchet newspaper. “Twice a week I can look at the paper and say, ‘I did that,’ ” he told a Hatchet interviewer.
Mr. Larimer graduated in 1997, after he had already started at The Post, and soon developed a late-night routine, going to nearby bars such as the Fox and Hounds or Timberlake’s with other editors. One was Rupar, a copy editor on the business desk. They married in 2008, and she later left The Post to oversee political coverage at the 19th, a website covering the intersection of gender, politics and policy.
In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include his 7-year-old daughter and birding companion, Matilda Larimer, with whom he was trying to see 100 different bird species in 2021; his mother, the former Margaret “Marge” Lewandowski of Billings; two brothers; and a sister.
Mr. Larimer was still working as an agate clerk when he began taking editing assignments from sports copy chief Tony Reid, who later recruited him to the foreign desk.
“One of the things that made him stand out in the room was he was such a nice person,” Reid said by phone. “We had a lot of cranky people like me around, but we didn’t have a lot of nice people like Dave. . . . Happy people don’t often make good copy editors. Dave was the exception to that.”