John Cosgrove, who held executive positions with a broadcasting magazine and later operated a public relations firm, and who was known to generations of Washington journalists as the grand old man of the National Press Club, died Oct. 15 at his home in the District. He was 98.
The cause was a heart ailment, said Michael Clark, a longtime friend.
Mr. Cosgrove, who began working as a journalist in Washington in the 1930s, was president of the Press Club in 1961. Days after John F. Kennedy's inauguration, Mr. Cosgrove welcomed the president to the Press Club and peronally presented him with a membership card.
Kennedy, who had been offered free memberships in other clubs, thanked the Press Club for having "the decency to charge me the initiation fee and dues" and wrote a check to cover the cost.
"John was one of the best ambassadors we've ever had for the Press Club," Thomas Burr, a correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune and the current club president, said Saturday. "I personally loved sitting down and having a chat and talking about the good old days."
Mr. Cosgrove began working at the National Press Building in 1937, when he joined the Associated Press, and had an office in the same building for more than 70 years.
From 1948 to 1968, he was director of publications of Broadcasting Publications, which published Broadcasting magazine, the weekly trade journal of the radio and television industry. He later had a public relations business, with clients including railroads, health industry groups and J. Willard Marriott, founder of the Marriott hotel chain.
Mr. Cosgrove played a key role in launching "Honor America Day," a Fourth of July celebration held on the Mall in the early 1970s. He retired in his mid-90s.
He joined the National Press Club in 1948 and knew many of the earliest members of the club, which was founded in 1908 and for many years had a close association with the White House and Congress. He edited the club's 50th anniversary history in 1958 and was the guardian of the club's institutional memory well into the 21st century.
"Cosgrove had an encyclopedic memory of Press Club history," Gil Klein, a former club president, wrote Saturday in an email. "He could look at a picture from a half-century ago and identify everyone in it. .?.?. A great piece of the club's institutional memory has gone with him."
Mr. Cosgrove was an almost-daily presence at Press Club events and the members' bar, the Reliable Source, until shortly before his death. He attended the dedication of a room in his honor at the club last month.
"John was a terrific raconteur," former club president Frank A. Aukofer said in an interview. "If you got him to tell stories, he could talk for a week."
John Patrick Cosgrove was born Sept. 25, 1918, in Pittston, Pa. His father was a car dealer.
After working for a newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Mr. Cosgrove came to Washington and worked as a dictation specialist for the Associated Press. In 1940, he became a speechwriter for the National Republican Congressional Committee and later worked on Capitol Hill as an assistant to Sen. Hiram Johnson (R-Calif.). Mr. Cosgrove served in the Navy for four years during World War II, first in Washington and later on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.
He was a member of the board of the Navy Memorial Foundation and, in the weeks before his death, received its highest honor, the Lone Sailor Award.
Mr. Cosgrove was also prominent in Irish American organizations, including the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and for many years was a marshal of Washington's annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
His wife of 51 years, Patricia O'Hara Cosgrove, died in 2002. He had no immediate survivors.
At Mr. Cosgrove's 1961 inauguration as Press Club president, Kennedy had to leave before the oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Earl Warren.
On his way out, Mr. Cosgrove recalled in an official history of the Press Club, Kennedy "looked at me directly and said, 'I'm sorry I can't stay longer, but be sure to keep your hand on the Bible.'"
The Washington Post - October 15, 2016
When Pierre Salinger, press secretary to President John F. Kennedy, told John P. Cosgrove the president would be coming to the National Press Club to attend Cosgrove's inauguration as president of that organization, Cosgrove said he was honored, but there was one problem. President Kennedy was not a member of the club, something all recent presidents had been.
Salinger returned a few hours later with a personal check from Kennedy and the president not only attended Cosgrove's swearing-in but also signed as the official witness'. The oath of office was administered to Cosgrove by Chief Justice Earl Warren, replicating the role he had played at Kennedy's inauguration only a few weeks before in January 1961.
Cosgrove, a Pittston native who spent more than 70 years working in and around the media in Washington, D.C., died peacefully Saturday morning at his residence above the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the Capitol. He was 98 years old.
Tommy Burr, current president of the National Press Club, referred to Cosgrove's Kennedy story in a recent blog delivered to Press Club members.
"When you inevitably note how amazing it was that President Kennedy came to his swearing in," Burr wrote, "Cosgrove is known to deadpan: 'Well, I went to his."
Burr's comments were included in an announcement that a room at the Press Club was about to be named the John Cosgrove Members' Lounge. Burr said the decision by the Press Club Board of Directors was unanimous.
Only a handful of notables have been so honored, including President Harry S. Truman and radio and television legendary figure Edward R. Murrow.
Cosgrove was on hand to cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony two weeks ago. Not only was he Press Club president in 1961, but also a member since 1949. He maintained an office at the club into his 90s.
Born in Pittston, on Sept. 25, 1918, Cosgrove left for Washington in 1938 with a group of high school friends to pursue employment at the time when the Great Depression was just beginning to decline. In his later years, he would often say his three great loves were his country, his Irish heritage and his hometown of Pittston.
Pittston was on his mind when he closed his office at the Press Club in 2006. He donated his life's library, thousands of books, correspondence and photos, to the Pittston Memorial Library and when the library decided to build an addition to house the collection, Cosgrove showed up with a check for $50,000 to "get the ball rolling."
The John P. Cosgrove Center at the library was dedicated last summer with Cosgrove in attendance. An endowment was established in his name to help with the library's operating expenses, and Cosgrove donated the first $10,000.
The Cosgrove collection is on display in the Cosgrove Room at the library.
A part-time reporter "back home" with a local newspaper, Cosgrove's first Washington job was in the Washington bureau of the Associated Press.
He was working as an aide to famed California Senator Hiram Johnson at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Cosgrove said he walked down the hallway in the Capitol and heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech in person and the next day he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Cosgrove was first detailed to the federal office of censorship review, located in what is now the Federal Trade Commission building in Washington, but kept requesting active duty. The Navy complied and he served two years aboard the USS Gendreau, a destroyer escort in the Pacific. His ship survived Japanese bombardments on two occasions.
Love of the Navy consumed much of Cosgrove life's activity. He was a founding member of the U.S. Navy Memorial, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, serving as a trustee for 30 years until he resigned a few months ago. Only three weeks ago, he was surprised with the presentation of the prestigious Lone Sailor Award by the Trustees of the Navy Memorial. Past recipients include presidents John F. Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt, athletes Arnold Palmer and Stan Musial, and actors Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine.
Following World War II, Cosgrove joined the staff of the fledging Broadcasting magazine, the first trade publication of the radio industry. The group a few years later produced Television magazine, with both magazines becoming senior media publications.
In the 1970s, Cosgrove served on a committee which made the recommendation to introduce the National Anthem with the words, "And now to honor America." The practice continues to this day.
In Irish cultural circles both in the U.S. and Dublin, Cosgrove was widely recognized for his program development roles, activities in organizations including the American Ireland Fund, and others.
In 2011 he presented two large paintings he had commissioned depicting the contributions of Irish statesmen and military men to the American Revolution, to the Irish Embassy. A reception was held at the home of then-Irish Ambassador Michael Collins to which Cosgrove invited several friends from Pittston.
Cosgrove's funeral will be held later this week from the 175-year-old Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, in Washington, D.C., the site of the Funeral Mass for President Kennedy in 1963, at which Cosgrove was in attendance.
Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, PA) - October 16, 2016