Rankin was preceded in death by his father, Arthur N. Rankin, a longtime NCR Corp. representative to Richmond’s banking community, and his mother, Martha Louise Rountree Rankin, who was executive secretary to Richmond’s U.S. District Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr. in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Rankin loved journalism, tennis, books, baseball, jazz, Charleston S.C., boating, Columbo, and The Rolling Stones, not necessarily in that order. He loved France and all things French, having spent a year there in 1979-80 chasing Ernest Hemingway’s ghost as an aspiring novelist and freelance writer. He discovered he was no Hemingway.
He was, however, a successful newspaper journalist for 40 years. He shared a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1983 as a member of The Miami Herald Editorial Board. He was lead writer of a year-long Pulitzer-winning series of editorials that challenged the Reagan administration’s inhumane treatment of Haitian refugees in South Florida. Rankin wrote editorials for The Herald from 1980-‘85.
He also won state, regional and national journalism prizes as a reporter for The Richmond (Va.) News Leader from 1972-‘75, national energy correspondent for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C. during the energy crisis from 1975-‘78, editorial writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1985-‘87, and as national correspondent and news editor for the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, then McClatchy, from 1987-2012.
Knight-Ridder owned The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among its 32 metro dailies; it was the second-largest group of U.S. newspapers by circulation in those years. Rankin was Knight-Ridder’s national economics correspondent for five years and its senior White House correspondent covering the Clinton presidency for five and one-half years. Knight-Ridder editors nominated his writing for a Pulitzer Prize five times. From 2000-’06, he was the KR Washington bureau news editor overseeing coverage of the White House, Congress, politics, elections and economics. After McClatchy Newspapers acquired Knight-Ridder in 2006, he retained the position until he retired in June 2012, to Wilmington, N.C.
Rankin graduated from John Marshall High School in Richmond in 1967, earned a B.A. in political science from Randolph-Macon College in 1971, and an M.A. in Government from the University of Virginia in 1974. He also was awarded a one-year fellowship in economics journalism by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1978. In 2017 Rankin was given a distinguished achievement award by Randolph-Macon College “in recognition of contributions made to society through your chosen profession.”
Rankin was married three times. First was to his high school and college sweetheart, Nancy Lynn Rinehart; they divorced in 1972 after one year of marriage. Second was to journalist Janis Johnson; they divorced after 22 years of marriage in 2001. Third was to Judy Ann Rankin (nee Backman), a Seattle-born
bon vivant, a registered nurse, and a cherished, sparkling partner in every dimension of his life. She died of congestive heart failure on June 2, 2019, in their 15th year of marriage. He never got over her loss.
Rankin is survived by one son from his second marriage, Benjamin John Rankin, a lawyer in New York City (and his wife, Carrie Bodner); by a brother, Richard Alan Rankin, a retired sales rep for Motorola, of Richmond (and his wife, Daphne Rankin); and by two granddaughters.
A memorial service is expected to be held in Summer 2021 in Richmond, Va. In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor would be welcomed by Randolph-Macon College or the University of Virginia.