Holcomb B. Noble, who shared in two-time Pulitzer Prizes in leading two year-long investigations for The New York Times. He directed The Times coverage of the fatal flaws in President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program and the paper’s investigation into the crash of the space shuttle Challenger. He was born on Nov. 7, 1933.
Noble joined The New York Times in 1972 as an editor of its Sunday Magazine, where he served ten years on its staff, editing such writers as John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., James Clavel, Anthony Burgess and Seymour Hersh. In 1982, he became Deputy Science Editor, where he conducted the Star Wars and Challenger Pulitzer-winning investigations. Others investigation in directed included working with reporter Peter Kerr on the effectiveness of President George H. W. Bush war against drugs, raising questions on its ineffectiveness without adequate treatment programs; and also with Kerr, on fraud within the for-profit mental-health industry for committing teenagers to mental institutions who skipped school, warning the parents that the child was suicidal and then pronouncing them cured of mental illness when their parents insurance ran out. That investigation led to the largest health fraud fine, $350,000, in the nation’s history at that time in the 1990’s.
A member of the Amherst class of 55, he took a year off and ski raced in the Alps; he graduated from Amherst the next year, and began his journalism career as a reporter for a small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, then as a reporter for The Worcester, Mass., Telegram,. In 1960, he joined The Associated Press, becoming Day Supervising Editor of its General News Report, and directing its coverage of the moon missions of Apollo 12, 13, and 14 from the AP bureau in Houston.
A founding board member of the award-winning Young People’s Chorus of New York City, he left The Times in 2001 and divided his time between familym writing, lecturing at Columbia Journalism School, tennis, jazz piano and choral singing.