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In Memoriam | Winter 2020

In Memoriam: Christopher Dickey

August 31, 1951 – July 16, 2020

Renowned correspondent Dickey stepped out from famous father’s shadow

The summer after his third year at the University of Virginia, Christopher Dickey (Col ’72) worked as a stand-in during the filming of Deliverance, the movie based on the book by his father, acclaimed poet and novelist James Dickey.

Christopher Dickey Peter Turnley

He was the only Dickey allowed on set. Director John Boorman had banished James Dickey, an outsize man with outsize excesses and ego, for disrupting production.

Christopher Dickey, a celebrated foreign correspondent who died July 16 at age 68, distanced himself from his hard-drinking, womanizing father as well. The fame brought on by Deliverance made James only more unbearable and self-destructive. Father and son remained estranged for 20 years.

“My father was a great poet, a famous novelist, a powerful intellect, and a son of a bitch I hated, and that last fact was just a part of me,” Dickey wrote in his memoir, Summer of Deliverance. “It was a cold knot of anger that I lived with and that helped drive me to do the things I wanted and needed to do in my own life. I became a foreign correspondent, as far from him as I could be.”

Dickey became one of his generation’s greatest correspondents, reporting from war zones in Central America and the Middle East, and from more than 40 countries in all in a 40-year career with The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Daily Beast. An intrepid reporter known for getting close to the action, he narrowly escaped death while embedded with the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras in the early 1980s.

Dickey wrote seven books, but was best known for Summer of Deliverance, which one reviewer praised as “an exquisite balance of blistering candor and healing grace.” He and his father reconciled before James died in 1997. Christopher Dickey had long since emerged from his father’s shadow. He came to understand how living with a celebrated but flawed mythmaker had influenced his own career path. “I felt that I needed to get to the truth of things,” he said in a 1998 interview. “The myth didn’t interest me. The facts did interest me.”

Dickey is survived by his wife, the former Carol Salvatore; a son; three grandchildren; a brother; and a half sister.

—Ed Miller