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Roderick MacLeish, 80; in fiction and reality, lived a life of adventure

He was a wild-animal trainer from Kenya. He was a former prisoner in Siberia, rescued by a pair of huskies.

At least that's what Roderick MacLeish mischievously told people he'd meet.

But the truth was often more interesting.

Mr. MacLeish was a journalist, a filmmaker, and an author who covered the world, from the Sinai War between Egypt and Israel, to war in the Belgian Congo, to Vietnam, to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. MacLeish died of natural causes late Saturday night at a retirement home in Washington, D.C., according to his family. He was 80.

``Everywhere I go, I meet all these people that interned for my father and they all say how wonderful he was," his son, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said yesterday. ``He loved to teach."

The elder MacLeish was news director for WBZ radio in Boston in the early 1950s before moving to London, where he established a foreign news department for Westinghouse Broadcasting Co.

Later in his career he was a commentator and news analyst for National Public Radio.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he traveled the country writing social and political commentaries.

Mr. MacLeish produced a program focused on race relations, ``A Month in the Country," with Bernard Shaw.

``He was really proud when Bernie went on to become an anchor at CNN," his son said.

Mr. MacLeish was also a student of the arts with a remarkable memory.

He was the broadcast voice of the Philadelphia Orchestra; he narrated art gallery exhibits; and he wrote several works of fiction. His documentary on the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, was nominated for an Emmy.

He also had a sense of humor and loved telling tall tales.

One day, his former wife and lifelong friend, Diana MacLeish, was sitting on her front steps with her two dogs. A stranger approached and asked, ``Are these the two huskies that saved Rod MacLeish from the prison in Siberia?"

Without missing a beat, she answered that they were. She knew that Mr. MacLeish liked to tell fantastic stories about himself.

``When I think back over my career, I know that my father was a tremendous inspiration," said his son, an attorney, who represented hundreds of people who said they were abused by Catholic priests and who helped negotiate an $85 million settlement with the Boston Archdiocese.

Mr. MacLeish, who was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., also leaves another son, Sumner; and three grandchildren.

The family is planning a memorial service in Washington and a private burial in Massachusetts.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the obituary of Roderick MacLeish in yesterday's Globe misidentified his survivors. Mr. MacLeish leaves a son, Roderick Jr., a daughter, Sumner, and three grandchildren.

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