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Ann Cottrell Free, longtime journalist

WASHINGTON -- Journalist Ann Cottrell Free, who spent her early career covering Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House and later became known as a defender of wildlife and the environment, died Saturday of pneumonia. She was 88.

Ms. Free died at Sibley Memorial Hospital, said her daughter, Elissa Blake Free.

After a stint at Newsweek's New York headquarters, where her job was to clip newspapers for the magazine, Ms. Free was sent unexpectedly to Washington to join the newsmagazine's bureau as its only female reporter.

''One day the manager and editor called me in and said would I like to go down to Washington. I thought he meant to take a package. But I was the package," Free said in a 1989 group interview for an oral history project with other early female reporters covering the White House.

She arrived in Washington at the beginning of the 1940s, eight years into Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, and was assigned to cover the president's wife. Ms. Free later worked for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Herald Tribune.

While she focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, Ms. Free also reported from the capital on the impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the declaration of World War II, military and home front mobilization, women in the armed forces, and war factory production.

Upon news of President Roosevelt's death in 1945, she was the first reporter to reach Bess and Margaret Truman, the wife and daughter of the new president.

After the war, Ms. Free reported from overseas on special assignments for the United Nations and the Marshall Plan and with newspapers.

One of those assignments in the 1960s brought Ms. Free an interview with environmental writer Rachel Carson while she was writing her major work, ''Silent Spring." The two women became friends, and after Carson's death, Ms. Free initiated in a national magazine a campaign for the establishment of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Ms. Free wrote three books on preservation of the environment and wildlife and was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal, the Rachel Carson Legacy Award, and other honors.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Free leaves a granddaughter.

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