Michael T. Kaufman
Class of 1959
There is little that Michael T. Kaufman did not write about during an illustrious career of more than 40 years with The New York Times. With a prose style that was admired by colleagues and readers alike, he covered the fall of foreign regimes, interviewed despots and told the stories of everyday New Yorkers. An avid and seasoned traveler, he traced his love of adventure to his boyhood hero, Jack London.
Kaufman was born in Paris on March 23, 1938, to Jewish refugees who had fled Poland. When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, the family was forced to move once again. They sought safety in Spain, then sailed from Lisbon to New York, arriving in 1941. Kaufman quickly adapted to the sidewalks of his new home, developing a street savvy that would serve him well as a journalist. He spoke French and Polish, explored the city and sold ice cream in Coney Island when he was 13. He attended the Bronx High School of Science before entering City College at the age of 16.
|In Darra, Pakistan, 1980.|
After graduating in 1959, he spent a brief time as a teacher in Harlem before joining The Times as a copy boy that same year. According to his obituary in The Times, being a newspaper reporter was an ideal occupation for him because he was “an insatiable schmoozer, loved to travel and wrote fast against a deadline.” In his years at The Times, he was a rewrite man, a reporter on the metro staff, a deputy foreign editor, an Albany correspondent and the author of the About New York column, stories of ordinary New Yorkers who were doing extraordinary things. He also served as a bureau chief in Africa, India, Canada and Poland, a position that meant little time behind a desk. He was off covering wars in Angola and Zaire, and interviewing famous and infamous newsmakers, from Mother Teresa to Idi Amin. Closer to home, he covered events ranging from the music festival at Woodstock to the uprising at Attica. In 1978, his reporting from Africa earned him a George Polk Award. His reporting from Poland affected him deeply, inspiring a piece he later wrote for the Times Magazine about his 82-year-old father’s return to Poland after 50 years of exile.
After his retirement in 1999, Kaufman wrote obituaries for The Times of such newsmakers as King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, the ruler of Tonga and the last reigning monarch in the South Pacific, and Peter W. Rodino Jr., the New Jersey congressman who presided over impeachment hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
Kaufman wrote seven books, including “Mad Dreams, Saving Graces: Poland: A Nation in Conspiracy” (1989); “Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire” (2003); and, with Bernard Gwertzman, “The Collapse of Communism” (1991) and “The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire” (1992). Earlier he had written “Rooftops & Alleys: Adventures With a City Kid” and “In Their Own Good Time,” stories of some of the unconventional folks he had run across, including Hell’s Angels and a self-proclaimed witch. His final book, “1968,’’ a chronicle of that tumultuous year, appeared in 2009. A year later, on Jan. 15, 2010, at the age of 71, he died of pancreatic cancer.
On May 2, 2011, more than a year after his death, Kaufman’s byline appeared once again in The Times. It was over an advance obituary he had written that was to be published on the death of Osama bin Laden. Three years after that, on May 25, 2014, another advance obit with Kaufman’s byline was in The Times, this one for Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last Communist leader of Poland.