SONOMA, Calif., July 5 (UPI) -- Roderick W. Beaton, an aggressive defender of press freedoms at home and abroad during his 10-year tenure as president of United Press International, has died of heart failure at age 79.
Beaton, who died Tuesday in Sonoma, had been in failing health since suffering a heart attack several years ago.
Beaton believed full news coverage from all sources, whether from socialist or communist capitals or from democratic countries, was needed to help people better understand each other.
He insisted on high quality news and picture coverage of major stories, which ranged from Vietnam to Watergate. He recognized the need for increased emphasis on what at the time were emerging fields of coverage, such as economics, consumerism, science and health.
Beaton, who stood 6-feet-5 and towered over most of his associates, was called Rod by UPI employees and hundreds of news executives he met during his world travels. His style was informal.
On UPI's 75th anniversary on June 21, 1982, shortly before his retirement on Sept. 1, he said: "UPI has never been stuffy, and I trust no one would dare call us dull. I hope we are intelligent, or at least smart when it counts. Along with honesty and integrity, which we all expect from each other, those have been the essentials for 75 years. They will continue to be as we move forward to the 21st century and UPI's 100th anniversary."
Len Small, chairman of UPI at the time of Beaton's retirement, said in 1982 the outgoing president had made a major contribution to UPI and the news industry as a whole, leading UPI through a decade of challenge, change and technological innovation.
Among Beaton's accomplishments were movement of UPI's computers from New York to a new $10 million technical and communications center in Dallas, the upgrading of UPI's Unifax receivers and improvements of virtually every form of communications for news, pictures and audio services.
"Under Rod's direction UPI was a world force in covering the major stories of the second half of the 20th Century. While under his stewardship UPI lead the way in developing new technology for the industry," said Tobin Beck, UPI's executive editor.
Al Webb, former space correspondent and reporter from Vietnam for UPI, said, "I knew Rod Beaton from the days long before he was UPI president and found him a genuinely affable, knowledgeable Unipresser with whom I shared the occasional drink -- even though he was so tall that he could seem an awesome presence. He had some good ideas about UPI's future, I thought, even though they didn't always come to fruition. His death sadly deprives us of another memorable Unipresser."
Harold Martin, UPI's national editor, worked under Beaton when he was vice president for Europe and remembered being frustrated sometimes when told to hold down expenses on what appeared to be a profit-making bureau. "Rod explained that the economics of UPI meant that every bureau was providing for the overhead of the company so profits were elusive. And they were. But he once sent me a nice note congratulating me on getting a 10 percent increase at the British Broadcasting Corp., something he said he'd tried unsuccessfully to do."
"Rod Beaton was an enormous credit to UPI who led the company in a very trying time for any CEO, when the only thing on the mind of the company's ownership at Scripps Howard was how to get rid of it," said Bob Page, a former UPI executive and close friend, said during his eulogy for Beaton.
"He never backed off of his love for UPI, that for which it stood for or the value it provided a free society. He held to a simple belief that the work of UPI was damn important as well as essential to the democratic institutions which guide American life."
Beaton was born April 16, 1923, in Escalon, Calif. He was the son of the late Philip C. Beaton, for many years the executive editor of the Stockton Record. He served as a Navy correspondent in the Pacific theater during World War II.
After his discharge from the Navy, Beaton received a journalism degree from the University of California at Berkeley before joining United Press, now UPI, in San Francisco in 1948 as a reporter and editor.
Beaton recalled he was on his way to an interview with the Associated Press when a friend with United Press encountered him on the way and persuaded him to apply to UPI instead.
Beaton married Evelyn Miller of Stockton on Oct. 7, 1945, and they had two children. Evelyn Beaton died in October, 2001.
Shortly after joining UP, Beaton became manager of the bureau in Fresno and then was promoted to regional business representative in Los Angeles. He subsequently served as division manager in the Southeastern states and later in the Midwest before moving to New York as vice president and general business manager in 1962.
In 1965, UPI placed Beaton in charge of Europe, Africa and the Middle East with headquarters in London. He returned to New York in 1969 as vice president and general manager and three years later was made president and chief executive officer.
When Beaton succeeded A. Mims Thomason as president and chief executive officer on April 28, 1972, UPI had just advanced to the threshold of a new era in its development of sophisticated equipment.
Under Beaton, UPI changed its universal method of delivering the news from the 60-word-a-minute Teletype machine to the 1,200-word-a-minute Datanews receiver. The electronic video display terminal, known as VDTs, replaced the Teletype keyboard and, in most cases, the reporter's typewriter. And the revolutionary program of replacing land communications lines with satellites and saucer-like receivers had begun.
Beaton was the recipient of numerous awards and citations, including the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from West Germany, for fostering better press relations, and the Carr Van Anda Award from Ohio University for his contributions to the field of journalism.
Beaton is survived by a son, Rod, of Vallejo, Calif., a daughter, Anne, of New York, four grandchildren and a sister.
Donations in Beaton's memory should be made to the Sonoma Valley Foundation, Box 60, 347 Andrieux St., Sonoma, Calif., 95476.