Les Payne
Les Payne / Newsday

Les Payne, a highly revered, award-winning journalist for who championed racial equality died unexpectedly Monday evening at his home in Harlem, according to Newsday, where he spent his nearly 40 year career. He was 76.

“He appreciated the people who appreciated him: the readers. They were the ones that he enjoyed writing for, and I appreciate them reading him,” his wife, Violet, told Newsday. Payne he held roles at the Long Island, N.Y.-based newspaper ranging from reporter to associate managing editor, and covered stories regarding race relations across the world.

By the time he retired in 2006, he had overseen foreign and national coverage, was an editor of New York Newsday, and also penned a regular column.

His legacy includes being a member of the reporting team at the paper that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for a 33-part series titled “The Heroin Trail,” tracking heroin from where it was grown in Turkey to the U.S. where it was sold.

“(Payne’s) skill, his passion and his integrity were all elements in a distinguished career that, in his own words, led to ‘journalism that brought attention to problems, and sometimes helped solve those problems, said Deborah Henley, Newsday editor.

Payne was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in English. He was served as a U.S. Army captain during Vietnam before joining the Newsday staff in 1969.

He was also a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

In November, Payne was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Deadline Club, the New York City Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.