Maurice “Mickey” Carroll, who helped cover the Kennedy assassination for the New York Herald Tribune and later advocated for creation of the Morris School District, died Wednesday at his family home in Morris Township. He was 86.
Carroll covered countless stories for seven newspapers, taught generations of journalists at four universities and, for the last two decades, translated the Quinnipiac University Poll into plain English.
But the seminal moment of his long career, he told an overflow audience at the Morristown & Township Library a few years ago, happened by accident in a Dallas police station basement one Sunday morning in November 1963.
Carroll hoped to cadge a quote from Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of President Kennedy, for senior reporters at the New York Herald Tribune. Instead, he watched in disbelief as Jack Ruby burst through a gaggle of newsmen and cops to shoot Oswald at point-blank range.
The paper assigned Carroll to cover Ruby’s trial — a “tawdry” tale of “cheap little people doing cheap things”– and to explore 25 unanswered questions from the JFK assassination.
After slogging through the 1,000-page Warren Commission report, he was convinced that Oswald, “just on the edge of schizophrenia,” was the lone gunman.
So what explains the preponderance of conspiracy theories?
“The Warren Commission was sloppy. Not wrong, but sloppy,” said Carroll, author of Accidental Assassin: Jack Ruby and 4 Minutes in Dallas.
The government report, Carroll liked to say, was a bad read. Conspiracy theories were more engaging.
“That’s a journalist talking,” said Pat Smith, spokesman for the Quinnipiac Poll and a former reporter who knew Carroll on the political beat in New York City.
Journalism was in Carroll’s blood, said Smith, who admired his friend’s personality as much as his prose.
“Mickey was always upbeat. There was not a malicious bone in his body. He would never disparage a politician, or give his opinion. He was disciplined in that regard. He would report the facts and let the reader form his own opinion,” Smith said.
Quinnipiac University President John L. Lahey called Carroll “a reporter in the finest tradition of American journalism, a dedicated educator and a knowledgeable commentator on the American political scene. He educated thousands in the classroom and millions through his reporting and his work with the poll.”
‘POLITICS NEVER LEFT HIS MIND’
Carroll got his first taste of newspaper work while in high school, writing for the Rutherford Republican — an ironic start for an Irish Catholic Democrat, said his son, state Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25th Dist.)
Mickey Carroll’s career included stints at the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Post, the Passaic Herald-News, the Jersey Journal and the Star-Ledger.
Scott Ladd, a former Newsday reporter and editor, remembered Carroll as “a consummate professional, with a great sense of humor and an unusually keen eye for how politics, and politicians, operated throughout New York City and the state.
“He was so generous with his time and in sharing his reportorial perspective and experience with many of the younger New York Newsday reporters, including me. He will be greatly missed,” Ladd said.
Carroll enjoyed handing out copies of Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, the profile of a 19th century party boss who drew a “distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft,” his son recounted.
Even in the final stages of Carroll’s battle with colon cancer, “politics never left his mind,” said his first wife, Peggy.
“He looked up and said, ‘You know, we have half the government.’ He seemed very concerned about Mr. Trump, and leaving him in charge of the other half of the government,” she said.
Michael Patrick Carroll is a conservative Republican who very nearly got named for the late Adlai Stevenson, a progressive Democrat.
The legislator considers himself an ideologue; he said his father was more practical. An expert on government theory, Mickey Carroll could “quote Thomas Jefferson without a sneer.”
“He liked to kid me that I’m not as conservative as I claim to be, and I’d kid him he was not as liberal as he claimed to be,” his son said.
There was some common ground, he suggested.
“I don’t like people telling me what to do, I don’t like government telling me what to do. My dad felt the same way–but he felt there was no alternative to government,” Michael Patrick Carroll said.
‘HE BELIEVED SCHOOLS SHOULD BE INTEGRATED’
Education also mattered to Mickey Carroll. He was Morris Township’s first school board member to voice support for merging with Morristown schools in the 1970s, a move later credited by many with stemming white flight from Morristown.
“He believed the schools should be integrated,” said Peggy Carroll, who met her future husband at the Passaic Herald News when she was an intern.
Mickey Carroll taught at Columbia University, New York University and Montclair State College before landing at Quinnipiac in Hamden, CT, in 1995.
“He has reached thousands of young journalists over the years,” Smith said.
“He understood at its core, at its base. He would take his Quinnipiac journalism students to meet the mayor of Hamden, to make sure they understood that what a local planning board decides is more important in your life than what is decided in Washington.”
Carroll was the son of Maurice C. Carroll, a businessman, and Dorothy Joyce Carroll, a bookkeeper; he graduated from the University of Notre Dame and served in the Army.
For 30 years Carroll was married to newspaper columnist Beth Fallon, who died in 2006. In addition to his former wife Peggy, with whom he remained close, and his son Michael, he is survived by daughters Eileen and Elizabeth, 10 grandchildren and a sister, Anne Shannon. Another son, Patrick, died in 2005.
A memorial mass will be celebrated on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, 4 Convent Road, Morris Township.