Sid Yudain: The Man Behind Roll Call

Jason Dick
Posted October 21, 2013 at 6:08pm

Sid Yudain always thought of Roll Call as a small town newspaper. It was just the most important small town in the world.

The founder of Roll Call died Sunday at the age of 90, and the small town he began to chronicle on June 16, 1955, just got a little smaller.

Yudain came to Congress in January 1951 as a staffer for freshman Connecticut Republican Rep. Al Morano and, seeing a need, founded “The Newspaper of Capitol Hill” in 1955.

“After getting to know and respect these dedicated people, after savoring the unique ambiance of congressional life, and mindful of the worldwide importance of the Congressional community, I decided to establish a newspaper to serve that community, a paper that would be a cohesive force, a community instrument, a complement to an unfairly neglected segment of government,” he wrote in his last column for Roll Call on May 1, 1988.

Getting It Started

Yudain was a lifelong and proud newspaperman, in every sense of the word. His first newspaper ventures were with his brothers in elementary school — they used competing editorials to ding each other, as siblings are wont to do, in lieu of sticks or stones.

In World War II, he started newspapers for the California unit he was assigned to and went on to cover Hollywood for magazines there.

After working in Congress, it was a death in the Ohio delegation that convinced him there was a place for a newspaper like Roll Call. Yudain recalled in Roll Call’s 50th anniversary newspaper that Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Ayers told him that he hadn’t even heard about the death until days later. “You know that paper you were talking about, I think you better go ahead and do it. We need it,” Ayers told him.

“It just seemed logical to bring everybody together and let the people know who’s who in which office, in the office next door to theirs, in the office down the street,” Yudain told Roll Call’s Jennifer Yachnin. “I thought we needed to get a more human spirit there, a more human aspect to the thing.”

The orientation toward community and human interest carried over to Roll Call and to his own writings for the paper, which could be found in “Sid-Bits,” a template for today’s Heard on the Hill gossip column.

“He loved that paper,” said Lael Yudain, his wife of 40 years. They met when he was 50 and she was 25. “His first wife was Roll Call,” she said.

The bylines in Roll Call over the years are a who’s who of political reporters — Ed Henry, Jim VandeHei, Nina Totenberg — and editors, such as Robert W. Merry, who left the Wall Street Journal and edited the paper after Yudain sold it to Arthur Levitt in 1986.

There were also bylines from luminaries such as Richard M. Nixon, who as vice president implored Yudain to literally stop the presses so he could write an obituary for a Capitol doorman who had died.

For his 80th birthday, nearly 15 years after his last column ran in Roll Call, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., honored Yudain on the House floor. “Throughout the 32 years that Sid owned Roll Call, the paper chronicled life on the Hill and promoted a community spirit where members and staffers of all political persuasions could come together to celebrate their common service to the American People,” Davis said.

Charlie Mitchell, a former editor of Roll Call, recalled how “Sid revolutionized the way the Capitol Hill community talked to one another. He created a place that was all about this unique environment, and that mark is still being seen today.”

Play Ball!

One of Yudain’s greatest legacies was restarting the Congressional Baseball Game in 1962. Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, had put the kibosh on the game because of a host of injuries and bad feelings all around. But Yudain saw the potential for something more.

The game, now in its 52nd year since being reborn, raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington. It has been played at Griffith Stadium, RFK Stadium and Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md. It’s now on a grand stage at Nationals Park and is a rallying point for bipartisanship among members of Congress and staff.

“It was something that united Capitol Hill along the lines of Sid’s vision for Roll Call — being a part of the community, not just a news outlet,” said David Meyers, who heads up CQ Roll Call’s state legislative tracking products and who got to know Yudain well during his time as managing editor of Roll Call.

Yudain was inducted into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

Signing Off

Besides his wife, Yudain is survived by a daughter, Rachel Kuchinad of New York City; a son, Raymond Yudain of Los Angeles; and three grandchildren, Owen, Lucas and Charlotte.

A World War II veteran, Yudain will be buried at Arlington Cemetery. The family is still working on details for a memorial service to be held at the National Press Club.

Yudain knew how to sign off in style. He ended his “-30-” column back in 1988 thusly: “And so, with the ovations, testimonials, and awards a distant memory, I slip off into another sphere. Thanks for your support, thanks for your friendship, and thanks for the memories.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.