John Elson dies at 78

Canadian-born journalist John T. Elson has died, age 78. He will be remembered by most, perhaps, for his 1966 cover piece for Time, “Is God Dead,” a massive research and writing effort which remains a landmark piece of journalism.

“The story brought a brimstone of controversy, but given the depth of the reporting, few could argue that the writer had not done his homework,” noted Jim Kelly, Time’s former managing editor.

At the time of the “God” story Elson was Time’s religion editor. He worked for the newsmagazine for four decades, noted Kelly, and “wrote more than a dozen cover stories and edited hundreds more.”

Born in Vancouver, Elson was recruited by Time from The Canadian Press. The obituary in the New York Times called him quiet and scholarly.

A random choice of one of Elson’s pieces revealed this play on the 1920 satire of Mencken and Nathan. “The American Credo … badly needs updating. In 50 years, America has become a more divided land, and its favorite truisms are less firmly fixed….”  Nearly 40 years after he penned it Elson’s piece remains relevant.