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Astronaut Sally Ride Makes For Most Interesting Sunday Newspaper Read

July 23, 2017

I always enjoy learning about the process of news reporting and the professional decisions that need to be made.

Five years have passed since the death of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Her New York Times obituary — specifically, the way we addressed her sexuality — provoked an intense debate that still echoes from time to time.

In the third week of July 2012, The Times learned that Dr. Ride was terminally ill and was receiving hospice care. She was only 61, and her illness had been kept secret. I started working on an advance obituary right away.

Dr. Ride died that July 23. Late that day, her company, Sally Ride Science, posted a statement on its website. I read it hurriedly, picked up the name of a survivor we had not known about and hastily typed it into the draft: Tom O’Shaughnessy, Dr. Ride’s partner of 27 years.

“It’s not Tom,” said the obituaries editor, William McDonald, reading the company’s statement. “It’s Tam.”

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